MCFRS News Release

Dangerous Fire Conditions Very Likely

Smoking materials and landscaping mulch - a dangerous combination

Fire officials ask that area residents use caution especially when involved in any open burning, including outdoor barbeques and cook-outs. Smokers are urged to be extra careful disposing and discarding smoking materials. The combination of landscaping mulch and improperly discarded smoking materials has been the cause of several significant fires in Montgomery County so far this year.

In the last month Montgomery County firefighters have responded to several hundred reported fires involving mulch, brush or grass, including over 50 in the last 24 hours alone. In some cases nearby structures have been damaged. Often the cause of the fire was an improperly discarded cigarette in landscaping mulch.

Most recently around on the afternoon of Tuesday, April 24, 2007 a cigarette discarded in some mulch near the KFC restaurant 18108 Town Center Drive, in Olney resulted in a fire that caused over $10,000 in damage and closed the business.

In many areas of the United States the brush fire season has started early this year and could extend well into early summer months. Recent cold spells have often resulted in lower humidity that has been creating an extremely dangerous threat of area brush fires and wildfires not only in areas of the south and southwest, but in Montgomery County and throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, as well. This situation is especially more dangerous with the existence of windy conditions.

With the winter season over, spring has arrived and we have been pleasantly surprised by some recent warm weather. With warmer weather comes newly laid landscaping mulch and eventually dry vegetation that can result in brush fires that burn and spread quickly.

Fires involving the combination of landscaping mulch and discarded smoking materials also have been particularly troublesome.

Of course we hope that people don't smoke in the first place, but if they choose to do so we suggest that they be careful when disposing of cigarette butts and other smoking materials. Use appropriate containers, ie. ashtrays or other non-combustible receptacles. Designate safe smoking areas and isolate those areas preferably away from buildings and away from anything combustible such as landscaping mulch, wood decks, furniture, etc. If you smell smoke or any other peculiar burning odor - call the fire department immediately by dialing 911. In a few recent cases, residents even smelled something burning the night before, but did not call the fire department until they saw smoke, often hours later.

It is important to take into consideration some landscaping and home maintenance tips to ensure safe surroundings.

Construction Checklist

Any structure attached to the house, such as decks, porches, fences and sheds should be considered part of the house. These structures can act as fuses or fuel bridges, particularly if constructed from flammable materials. Therefore, consider the following:

A FIRE SAFE HOME HAS...

Fire-Resistant Exterior Construction
Wall materials which resist heat and flames include cement, plaster, stucco and concrete masonry. Although some vinyl will not burn, during some larger fires, firefighters found that some vinyl soffits melted allowing embers into the attic space.
Emergency Access
Identify your home and neighborhood with legible and clearly marked street names and numbers so emergency vehicles can rapidly find the location of the emergency.
Mulch Landscaping
Although mulch helps retain soil moisture, when dry, it can become flammable. Mulch as well as all landscaping should be kept well watered to prevent them from becoming fire fuel.
Defensible Space
Do you have at least 30 ft of space surrounding your home that is Lean, Clean and Green? The objective of Defensible Space is to reduce the wildfire threat to your home by changing the characteristics of the surrounding vegetation. Lean - Prune shrubs and cut back tree branches, especially within 15 feet of your chimney. Clean - Remove all dead plant material from around your home; this includes dead leaves, dry grass and even stacked firewood Green - Plant fire-resistant vegetation that is healthy and green throughout the year.
Defensible space allows firefighters room to put out or extinguish 'outside' fires.
Fire-Resistant Attachments
Attachments include any structure connected to your home, such as decks, porches or fences. If an attachment to a home is not fire-resistant, then the home as a whole is not as fire safe.
A Disaster Plan
The time to plan for a fire emergency is now. Take a few minutes to discuss with your family what actions you will need to take.
  • Post the emergency telephone number in a visible place.
  • Decide where you will go and how you will get there. Unlike evacuating for a hurricane, with fire you may only have a moments notice. Two escape routes out of your home and out of your neighborhood are preferable.
  • Have a plan for your pets
  • Practice family fire drills

Smokers should use extra care in discarding smoking materials.