Mulch is widely used in Central Ohio landscapes for both aesthetic and functional purposes.

Mulch is widely used in Central Ohio landscapes for both aesthetic and functional purposes.

Many homeowners and businesses apply mulch in the spring to help slow the loss of soil moisture during the hot summer months, discourage weeds, and maintain a tidy appearance.

There are now many mulches on the market made from a wide variety of materials including ground rub- ber, pine needles, oat straw, shredded hardwood and cypress bark, pine bark nuggets, shredded pine bark, composted leaves, brick chips, ground recycled pallets -- dyed mulched wood -- and even cocoa shells.

While mulch can be beneficial in landscape applications, it can also pose a fire hazard.

Mulch fires are one of the more common calls the fire department answers during the warm months of the year.

These fires are usually caused by cigarettes, matches and other smoking materials that are tossed on the ground before people enter a building or into the median from drivers.

Some types of mulch are more easily ignited than others.

Typically, mulches high in oils such as pine bark and shredded cypress bark, are easiest to ignite according to a study conducted by the Ohio State University Agricultural Technical Institute.

Dyed mulches that are commonly processed from pallets can also readily catch fire.

In contrast, cocoa shells, medium pine bark nuggets, and hardwood bark were three organic mulches that were tested in the study and found to be more ignition resistant.

To keep mulch fires out of the landscape

* Do not discard cigarettes or other smoking materials on the ground, in playground areas, or throw them out of your vehicle.

* Ensure proper clearance to electrical devices such as decorative lighting by following the manufacturer's instructions.

* Maintain a minimum of a six-inch clearance between landscaping mulch beds and other combustible items such as buildings, shrubs, etc.

* Use non-combustible mulch such as rock or pea gravel around the gas meter and next to combustible portions of a structure.

* Maintain mulch at a depth of two to four inches to eliminate the chance of spontaneous combustion.

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Washington Township Fire Department Fire Marshal Alan Perkins submitted the Smoke Signals column.