Mulch fire

Members of the Tignish Volunteer Fire Department had to break several boards of Jean Barbour’s veranda to make sure a fire that had broken out was completely doused. The fire’s cause was determined to be dry mulch, which somehow managed to ignite on the morning of May 21. Because mulch is a dry source of wood, it doesn’t take much for it to ignite, even the sun can cause it if weather is warm enough. Jillian Trainor photo

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Brenda Pitre was playing with her granddaughter outside her home in St Felix in the morning hours of May 21 when she noticed something was wrong with the veranda of the home of her neighbours, Art and Jean Barbour.

“All of a sudden I see a puff of smoke coming from the end of their home, and then I saw another puff, and another puff,” she said. “I ran in the house because my husband was still here, and I said ‘I think there’s a fire at Jean and Art Barbour’s, would you run and see what’s going on?’”

Though he left right away, and the home was only two houses down, the smoke had quickly turned into fire. After failing to get in contact with the home owners, Mr Pitre ran home to get a fire extinguisher to put the fire out, and while he managed to mostly put it out, smoke started coming from another part of the deck, and the Tignish Fire Department was called.

It turns out Ms Barbour was home, but she didn’t hear Mr Pitre knocking because she was drying her hair. It was only when her sister notified her of her neighbours that she learned of the fire.

“The firemen tore the boards off and they sprayed water underneath to make sure it was completely out,” she said. “If they hadn’t seen the smoke, it wouldn’t have taken too long to catch fire, I don’t think. The whole veranda would have caught fire, and the house after that.”

The cause of the fire was determined to be the mulch in the Barber’s flower beds.

Allan Gavin, Tignish fire chief, said his department doesn’t get many calls for mulch fires and this was the first one in a little over a year. But, he added, figuring out what caused the mulch to catch fire is difficult.

“It could be a spark that gets in there and it could linger there for a while before it ignites,” he said. “It’s a dry source of wood, so it doesn’t take much sometimes. The heat from the sun can get it warm enough to ignite.”

Mulch is typically used in gardens, and home owners will sometimes spread mulch in layers, year after year. While the top layer might not cause much of an issue, the older layers underneath can become drier, and more brittle, meaning they’re more combustible as a result. If a home owner does want to lay mulch down, it should be at least 18 centimetres from the home.

“It’s a fairly flammable substance, so you’ve got to be real careful with it,” said Mr Gavin. “You can’t tell people not to use it, but you have to be cautious with it. Things can go bad in a hurry if it ignites, because it will burn quick.”

Garden mulch was also determined to be the cause of a fire at an apartment building in Charlottetown in 2019. More than 50 people, most of whom were seniors, were able to safely get out of the building.

Ms Barbour is very grateful for her neighbours. After the fire was put out, she and her sister, Charlene Arsenault, spent part of the day raking up all the mulch in her garden, and will soon be replacing it with red clay.

She hopes home owners will think hard about whether they plan on using mulch for their gardens.

“We want everybody to be safe, we don’t want anybody to lose their homes,” she said.

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