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Raleigh mayor wants tougher restrictions on use of pine straw

Posted March 31, 2010

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— Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker is seeking tougher restrictions on the use of pine straw in landscaping after a blaze sparked in dry grass consumed seven homes last week.

The Raleigh Fire Department recommended Wednesday that the city pass an ordinance “prohibiting the use of pine straw within 10 feet of any combustible structure” in light of the fire that displaced 11 people from the 200 block of Armadale Lane, in the Highland Creek subdivision.

Gusty winds fed a fire that ignited in the grass in a lot at 2806 Armadale Lane and quickly spread through dry grass and landscape materials to the nearby homes, Capt. Tim Wilson of the Raleigh Fire Department said in a statement. The close proximity of the homes was also a factor in the fire's rapid spread, authorities said.

Raleigh considers limits on landscape materials Raleigh considers limits on landscape materials

Fire Marshal Rusty Styons submitted a report on the Armadale Lane fire Wednesday to the city's fire chief and command staff for review. In it, he wrote, “The Office of the Fire Marshal is recommending the consideration of both an educational campaign and the adoption of an ordinance prohibiting the use of pine straw within 10 feet of any combustible structure with the exception of one and two family dwellings.”

Meeker said the fire department’s recommendation does not go far enough. He said he will ask the city council for an ordinance to keep pine straw 20 to 30 feet from buildings. The council is to take up the issue at its meeting next Tuesday.

"I think we're seeing sort of a change in industry that people are now recognizing this as a hazard," Meeker said.

A pair of fires under similar situations three years ago led to changes in the building codes at the city and state levels.

In making his recommendation, Styons referenced the February 2007 fire that damaged or destroyed 38 townhouses at the Pine Knolls Townes townhouse complex off Capital Boulevard in Raleigh.

Pine straw next to the homes contributed to the rapid spread of that fire, authorities said, and vinyl siding and soffit material allowed flames to get into attics and on the roofs.

Six months later, a fire destroyed two homes in the Village at Rolesville subdivision in Rolesville. That led the town to consider changes to its building codes.

Without a similar policy change in Raleigh, Styons wrote, similar fires would be likely.

Meeker agreed that city leaders need to change the rules.

"Ten feet is not very far," he said. "Something more like 20 or 30 feet would make sense.

"Also, this really ought to apply to all houses, not just to multi-family. Anything that's got the possibility of burning shouldn't have the pine straw next to it."

Meeker said because the removal of pine straw is not a costly process, he would ask them to apply any new ordinance to all existing properties as well.

The fire department would like new rules for all structures, but it lacks the jurisdictional authority to enforce restrictions on one- and two-family homes. The mayor said city attorneys will look into the matter.


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  • WXYZ Apr 1, 2010

    Wow! So the mayor, in his infinite wisdom and desire to "protect" us all and "prevent" even the slightest hazard, no matter how low the probability. So, let's do the numbers: there are how many commercial and residential building within the city limts? And, of those buildings, how many have externally located "combustible material" within 30 feet? Multiply said "affected" buildings by the number of days that they have been in proximity to said material and then calculate the probability of a given affected building going up in flames as a direct result of said external combustible material. Also, factor into said probability calculations the number of days that said combustible material is much less combustible due to rain, irrigation, snow, ice, cold. Awwwww---the heck with it...let's go ahead and destroy the landscaping industry and waayyyy overprotect our citizens, who certainly are losing the capability of making rational decisions and actions for themselves on a daily basi

  • Homeward Apr 1, 2010

    Curious about this, I called my insurance agent. This national, well established company has no concern about pine straw around homes. If their underwriters are okay with it, that tells you something. (Besides, if you keep mulch moist enough to protect plants in the summer, it shouldn't burn anyway.)

  • unc70 Apr 1, 2010

    Thanks HJRVS, glad I could be of service. Now another episode of "The Know-It-All Tells All".

    I grew up on a farm down east where there are lots of pines. Everyone (including my mother) made sure that the pine straw was raked away from the house and the outbuildings. In our case, we put the extra back on the azaleas planted under the large pines along the edges of the yard.

    BTW The official state tree is just "the pine" without qualifying it as loblolly or anything else. By tradition, as shown in the state toast, the long-leaf pine is depicted as the tree.

    "Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great" as the ideal in the toast is one of my favorite phrases about NC.

  • rick_slick Apr 1, 2010

    "Here's to the land of the long leaf pine,
    The summer land where the sun doth shine,
    Where the weak grow strong and the strong grow great,
    Here's to "Down Home," the Old North State!"

    Gee - it's a good thing there aren't many pine trees or history of pines around here. Nice awareness Mr Mayor.

  • Equinox Bandingo Apr 1, 2010

    It's clear that this mayor likes to use the office to BAN certain rights of the citizens. Rather than proposing bans on gargabe disposals and pine straw, I hope the mayor will use the office to ban impassable roads, unjust property tax valuations, polluted water resources, inequitable police pay, and ban efforts to replace care for mentally ill with parks in order to increase property values for residents in some areas of the city.

  • AARRGGH Apr 1, 2010

    How about banning ignorant politicians--AND the ones who vote to let houses be built 10feet from each other!!!!! If those houses weren't so close they probably all would not have burned!!!!

  • archmaker Mar 31, 2010

    By the way...pine straw restrictions on (at least on multi-family housing) already exist in Cary.

  • knothead Mar 31, 2010

    Oh my. Let's outlaw dry grass and strong winds.

  • areadriver Mar 31, 2010

    OK, ban pinestraw. How about the Bermuda grass that is just as dry? Look at the pictures of the last fire. The fire stopped at the fescue. How about banning smoking? There will be less fires all the way around. Less house fires, less forest fires, less brush fires.

  • tealsatin Mar 31, 2010

    I think we should ban STUPIDITY....