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Raleigh panel OKs pine straw limits for apartments, townhomes

Posted April 27, 2010

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— A Raleigh City Council committee on Tuesday approved restrictions on using pine straw in landscaping outside apartment buildings and townhouse complexes.

The full council is expected to consider the tougher rules next Tuesday.

Pine straw Fire department says rules will protect residents

The Raleigh Fire Department recommended an ordinance prohibiting the use of pine straw within 10 feet of combustible structures, aside from single-family homes and duplexes.

The recommendation came after a March 23 fire that destroyed seven homes in the Highland Creek subdivision off Louisburg Road in northeast Raleigh.

Pine straw next to units in the Pine Knolls Townes complex, off Capital Boulevard in Raleigh, also helped spread a February 2007 fire that damaged or destroyed 38 townhouses.

Despite a plea from Mayor Charles Meeker to keep pine straw 20 to 30 feet from buildings, the City Council's Law and Public Safety Committee approved the fire department's recommended 10-foot limit.

"It is not imminent danger to homeowners or citizens of Raleigh, but it is something that needs to be addressed," Fire Chief John McGrath said. "I think we're taking a prudent point of view and approach to it."

Meeker said last month that Raleigh didn't go far enough in changing building codes after the Pine Knolls Townes fire, and it was time to make up for that oversight.

If approved by the full council, the restrictions would take effect next year, giving property owners time to move pine straw back from their buildings and replace it with other ground cover.

Apartment manager Brenda Brantley says it will cost nearly $20,000 to convert the property she handles because pine straw is cheaper to use than mulch.

"We're going to do whatever we have to do to comply," Brantley said. "It would just be nice if we could get the one-year period so we would be able to budget it for next year and not have to pay twice for landscaping materials because I just paid over $12,000 in February."

McGrath said fire department inspectors also would use that time to educate people about the new rules.

"We're use our inspection arm plus our special education arm to start to get the message out," he said.

The ordinance doesn't address pine straw outside single-family homes and duplexes because the fire department doesn't have the authority to enforce regulations on them. Authorities have said building inspectors could enforce tougher pine straw rules on those residences, and city officials said they might revisit the issue.

"The process is that any inspection, any house we will go to, we will try to tell people about the danger of having pine straw close to your house," Councilman John Odom said.


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  • 5Rs Apr 27, 2010

    When it is extremely dry, as occurs here about once a year, and you throw in strong winds, whole neighborhoods are at risk even without pine straw. The pine staw becomes EXTREMELY flammable and a minor spark can create a huge fire. I have seen embers fall into house gutters loaded with pine staw, and within three minutes flames had gone into the attic and were shooting out the ends of the roof. We must all be vigilant when it is dry and windy.

  • Adelinthe Apr 27, 2010

    Instead, why didn't they pass a law to prohibit smoking closer than 25 feet from an occupied building???

    It amounts to about the same thing.

    God bless.


  • AtALost Apr 27, 2010

    I'm sick of just reacting. Punishing someone after my home burns to the ground doesn't restore the items or lives lost in the incident. Also, doesn't make up for the time and stress involved. They didn't limit the use around single family homes, however, any homeowner with common sense should rethink their landscaping choices since they have no control over wind, people, etc. Pine straw, vinyl siding and asphalt shingles is a recipe for disaster with the typical separation between most homes and newer homes are practically attached. It's already happened 2x in a few years. I'm sure you can find something else to complain about.

  • AtALost Apr 27, 2010

    For all of you complaining, pine straw is more flammable than pine trees because it's drier. I understand the desire to make your own decisions but laws are needed because so many idiots make the wrong ones. Wouldn't be a big deal if they only damaged their stuff except they'll waste tax dollars rescuing, helping, etc. the intellectually challenged. Also, apartments, townhomes, etc. are close by design. If my neighbor or one of their guests is too lazy or stupid to use an ashtray, then at least there won't be dry pine straw waiting for their lit cigarette butt.

  • FE Apr 27, 2010

    "I'm waiting for Meeker to fine Pine Trees that have the audacity to drop pine needles on the ground."

    Maybe Mayor Meeker will consider just removing ALL of the offending trees in Raleigh and replacing them with some art work??

    Same for those highly combustible lawns.....


  • DontLikeTheSocialistObama Apr 27, 2010

    Meeker needs to find something productive to do.

    First he tried to take away our garbage disposals, now he's trying to take away our pine straw.

    I'm waiting for Meeker to fine Pine Trees that have the audacity to drop pine needles on the ground.

  • rescuefan Apr 27, 2010

    "If a City Inspector comes by my HOUSE and tells me to get rid of my pinestraw I will tell him where to put it.

    Do you live in a townhouse or apartment? If not, then you don't have to worry about it. Sheesh.

  • annemarek Apr 27, 2010

    Pine straw is dangerous. I know what a pine straw fire looks like because our town houses had a fire as a result of a fire in the pine straw.

  • maybelle Apr 27, 2010

    I have just read that people think homes burned because of pine straw, how dumb It Burned cause cigerates etc were thrown into the pine straw. Where there is fire there is smoke people throw 1/2 burnt cigs down on the ground. If there is straw/grass/paper it ignites sometime.
    Wish he worried about dirty street and paper, etc on the belt line that makes out city look real run down trashy.

    I still think the street need cleaning

  • research9 Apr 27, 2010

    If you've ever driven through Highland Creek you've seen the houses. Only one burned entirely, one partly, and the others were all damaged from heat from the fire. The vinyl siding didn't even catch, it just melted off. Some of the vinyl that melted wasn't even on the same side as the fire, that's just how combustible and reactive this junk is. And, in addition to the comments made already, there is NO pine straw in these yards...not sure how they blamed this one on pine straw.