Local News

Raleigh mayor wants tougher restrictions on use of pine straw

Posted March 31, 2010 2:00 p.m. EDT
Updated March 31, 2010 7:09 p.m. EDT

— 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.

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.