Pine straw much more flammable than mulch

RALEIGH Three years ago, 32 townhomes in Pine Knolls Townes were destroyed by a raging fire. That ignited the local pine straw debate.

That year, Chapel Hill imposed the first local rules on pine straw. Then last week, another fire broke out in Raleigh's Highland Creek Subdivision damaging six homes.

So Thursday, ABC11 asked Chapel Hill's fire department to demonstrate what's wrong with pine straw.

"From our standpoint, it's not a safe ground-cover to use adjacent to combustible construction," said Matt Lawrence with the Chapel Hill Fire Department. Lawrence showed our cameras what he meant.

"What we'll do is light these simultaneously," he said.

Fire officials lit two piles of typical ground cover - pine straw and hard wood mulch - at the same time and stepped back and watched.

The difference was stark.

"Flame height of about three feet," Lawrence said. "We're probably a minute in at this point."

Flames were hot within 60 seconds and the pine straw was completely engulfed in three minutes.

"With the mulch, it's still intact - small smoldering fire," Lawrence explained.

Just minutes into the test, the results seemed clear.

"We had a full bail of pine straw that has been consumed in just a few minutes," Lawrence said.

ABC11 showed Raleigh's mayor the test results. He says after two huge fires in three years, he wants pine straw no closer than 20, maybe 30 feet, from all homes.

"Pine straw, frankly, should not be around homes that have any flamable siding," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said. "It's just too dangerous a situation for that house as well as the neighbors nearby."

Meeker wants new rules as soon as possible. He says the contrast of pine straw in flames and mulch intact, simply proves the point.

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