Fire Chief: Hot Mulch Can Burst Into Flames

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By Autumn Ziemba, Fox 8 News Reporter

AVON, Ohio -- The spring heat could be to blame for a treacherous trend that is spreading throughout Lorain County.

Fire departments all over Cleveland's western suburbs are perplexed by a rash of fires that they can only attribute to one thing--spontaneous combustion. And the culprit could lie in your own backyard.

Avon resident Rick Vaccarella says he feels lucky to be alive.

"All this, the flames were coming through this, and it was just shattering the glass," said Vaccarella, while standing among $50,000 worth of damage to his Bridle Court home.

What happened to Vaccerella's home last month can only be described as strange and spontaneous, as flames from the landscaping below his kitchen destroyed it in a matter of minutes.

"Your basic questions: 'Did you smoke back here? Is there anything back here? Were people running through the yard? Do you have any enemies?' In my mind, I'm going, 'No, no, no,' " Vaccerella said. "All the things, the clues that (fire investigators) would normally find that would cause a fire, apparently weren't here."

Avon Fire Chief Frank Root III tells Fox 8 News that Vaccerella isn't the only one.

"This year and this season is unlike any other," Root said.

Mulch fires are on the rise in recent weeks, igniting in neighborhoods all over Lorain County. Part of the problem lies in mulch itself, which can smolder underground for hours.

"You'll see the steam coming off of it. There's heat in that mulch that's being created by the decomposition of the product," Root said.

Add to that a very hot and very dry spring, and you've got a recipe for disaster.

"The sun hitting the mulch ... everything has to just sometimes go just right, and the products of combustion will take place," warned Root.

The unlikely odds have left Vaccerella feeling uneasy.

"The negative piece is, I don't know what it was, so I don't know how to prevent it," he said. "The only thing I can do is, when we water the plants, I have to water the mulch."

Chief Root says it can be very difficult to prevent a fire of this nature, but it can help if you leave some space between your mulch bed and your house or garage.

Of course, the only surefire way to prevent it, would be to not have mulch at all.

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