Spontaneous Combustion

I’ve known most of my life what this term meant, but never thought I would experience it.

Upon our return home from the gym, Bob drove past our house and up to the community mailbox board.  Many neighborhoods in Myrtle Beach, don’t have individual mail boxes.  Instead, they have a specific area designated for our mail drop.  Ours is up at the new community pool house.

As we drove back down the street toward our house, I caught something out the corner of my eye and barked at Bob, “Turn around.”

I then urged him to drive back up to the house with the for sale sign in the yard; the house three doors up from us.  He asked why and I excitedly said, “I think something’s on fire.”

Before he stopped the car, I jumped out and ran to the side of the house.  Sure enough, there was smoke, and I could see charred mulch.  I stomped on the smoke only to have flames shoot up through the mulch around my foot.

Fortunately, the fire was on the side of the house with the water spigot, so, rather than catch my feet on fire, I fumbled with the garden hose, trying to find its end.  I turned on the water and began to put out the fire.

Once the fire was out, I noticed there was some wiring coming from a box on the same side and near where the fire had been.  So, instead of feeling confident that the fire was out and wouldn’t restart, I dialed 911.

I told the person on the other end what the emergency was.  Then I asked, “How would that happen?”

His response, “It’s the heat.  Mulch is a fire waiting to happen.”

I told the 911 operator, “I think the fire is out; but I felt I better not assume it won’t start up again,” to which he responded that he would send the fire department out just to be certain.

I knew from the agent who just sold our house for us that the agent for this house is also the owner.  Thus, after hanging up from 911, I called her number listed on the for sale sign and left a voice message.  Per her voice mail instructions, I also sent her a text because per her instructions; I felt it was an emergency.

Three big fire trucks came rolling down the street shortly after.  I told the men I was the caller and showed them where the mulch had caught fire.  They turned the spigot back on and wet the mulch down more.

Because I couldn’t believe a fire could start that easily, when I walked back into my house, I hopped on the computer and typed in, does mulch catch fire?  It certainly can.

I clicked on the first google entry at http://www.redorbit.com.  There I found an article titled, “It Really Happens:  Heat Causes Mulch to Ignite.”

Here is an excerpt from the article:

“It may sound bizarre, but experts say the right recipe of heat, decomposition and a little bit of wind can combine to start a fire, even in two inches of mulch around a flower bed.”

As I continued to read the article I learned that any element that is in a state of decomposition would generate heat.  That includes mulch.  I also learned that the black mulch is more prone to igniting because the darker the mulch, the more heat it absorbs which makes sense.

Although black much is more susceptible, the article pointed out that brown mulch can also ignite.  However, as long as the mulch is wet routinely, as in the event of a timed irrigation system, the less likely it is to ignite.  I knew that since no one lived in the house, the black mulch around my neighbor’s house had not been watered for quite some time.  The only water it was getting was from an occasional shower.

Bob mentioned that perhaps we needed to put water on our red cedar mulch.  I pointed out that I had the irrigation system running and that all the landscaping was being watered three times each week.  However, since it has been in the high nineties for almost the entire month of July, I would run some water on it just in case.

Wow, is all I can say.

After all the excitement, I sat down on my living room sofa. My right foot felt a little burned. It was the foot with which I tried to stomp out the fire.  Looking at my shoe, I then realized the shoes I had on were a pair I had out in the garage, my knockabout shoes. It was also the pair that had some leftover motor oil on them.

Ouch, is all I can say now.


Filed under Maribeth Shanley, writing

3 responses to “Spontaneous Combustion

  1. So scary. Mother nature rules.

  2. Ouch indeed. And a valuable cautionary tale. Perfect timing on your part.

  3. Thanks for the warning, Maribeth. Who knew?! I’ve had houses with mulch around them for 30 plus years and never knew this. Scary!

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