Local News

Safety Fears Prompt Ban on Flammable Pine Straw

Posted October 25, 2007 6:43 p.m. EDT

— 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.