Local News

Safety Fears Prompt Ban on Flammable Pine Straw

Posted October 25, 2007

— Chapel Hill leaders decided to make using pine straw illegal around some buildings after the landscaping staple helped cause at least three fires in the area this year.

The Town Council on Monday banned placing pine straw within 10 feet of commercial buildings and multifamily dwellings, including apartments and townhouse complexes. 

Pine straw is among the most four popular mulches but is also the most flammable. Drought conditions are aggravating the problem by drying out the dead pine needles, officials said.

"Pine straw is 7 1/2 to 10 times more combustible than any other decorative mulching material," Deputy Chief Matt Lawrence of the Chapel Hill Fire Department said. "The natural resins in pine straw make it very flammable."

At least three fires in Chapel Hill were fueled by pine straw this year, Lawrence said.

Most dramatically, discarded smoking material lit a fire in pine straw – creating a blaze that ripped through 38 town homes at the Pine Knoll Townes in north Raleigh in February.

Chapel Hill resident Ray Harris petitioned the Town Council for the ban after seeing the devastating mix of pine straw and fire repeated.

"It's pretty to look at, but it's not really a safe thing to use," Harris said.

The ban applies to buildings with exteriors made of combustible exteriors, such as wood, vinyl and aluminum siding. Those constructed with brick or concrete are exempt.

Violators can face up to a $500 fine, but Lawrence said fire officials will spend three months spreading word about the ban before enforcing.

Raleigh considered a similar ban after the Pine Knoll Townes fire but decided against it, because the ban would be difficult to enforce. Instead, the Raleigh City Council passed an ordinance ordering architectural changes to townhouse complexes and discouraging the use of pine straw.


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  • areadriver Oct 26, 2007

    Wait until people find out that "mulch", which is actually, "wood waste", is burned for fuel at some power plants and in industrial boilers, like the kind at paper mills, like Weyehauser, International Paper, and Bowater. I guess "mulch" is flammable too!!??

  • Builder03 Oct 26, 2007

    Pine needles start fires, mulch attracts termites. The reason for a mulch base whether it is pine needles or hardwood or pine mulch, is water retention and organic breakdown to feed plants or protect them in the winter. Secondary is the attractivness in the landscape. People start fires. Any tree product allowed to become dry and brittle becomes a potential fire hazard, if not moist. Solution: At entries plant no plants within ten feet, cover the ground with rock, sand or crushed brick and put a large ash tray in the center and irrigate the rest of the bed. Put up a sign to keep irresponsible people out.

  • Builder03 Oct 26, 2007

    ooops, wrong post....blogger error

  • Builder03 Oct 26, 2007

    If the bus was too loud in the cabin, if the other students were too loud and too disruptive, and if there were too many distractions, then a new bus driver is needed. All these same conditions occur every day in every other bus on the road, and there aren't mishaps like this occuring every day. If you don't have a handle on every aspect of your job, then you need to seek another type of job. Driver error, driver error, driver error, there is no other excuse for not doing the job.

  • Its me again Oct 26, 2007

    Pinestraw doesn't start fires, people do. So if the libs continue on people will be banned

  • DRA Oct 25, 2007

    wow so were banning pine straw whats next i know how about wooden houses lets build them out of steel better yet lets ban all the idiots from moving to the south that wil help with a lot of problems

  • Commentor5 Oct 25, 2007

    Environmental wackos at it again! And to announce this story on a rainy day.......

  • suncat Oct 25, 2007

    We got rid of almost all of the pine straw in our back yard last year and now I am thinking about removing it from the natural area in our front yard. In addition to being highly flammable when dry, I have seen wind lift small clumps of burning pine straw and blow it a considerable distance. If it lands on more pine straw, wood, or someones roof, another fire starts.

  • hp277 Oct 25, 2007

    The termite-repair companies of the Triangle are in complete agreement with a pine straw ban. Termites hate pine straw, but they just love mulch.

    Seems to me it would make far more sense to ban smoking near buildings. The pine straw does not spontaneously combust.

  • atozca Oct 25, 2007

    It is sad we have to make a law for the obvious.