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Wildland fires can be catastrophic for forests but also for homeowners and their property.  Fires are often caused by natural factors, but by far, the largest cause of wildfires is man-related.  Learning about wildfire prevention and what you can do to help will reduce the number of fires.  Preventing forest fires is everyone’s responsibility!  The Northeast Forest Fire Protection Commission's Prevention and Education Working Team (PEWT) offers several ways to take part.  See the Prevention section for more information.



Here is the latest video about the advantages of a Fire Prevention Education Team:

The study in Florida stated:

“…if it had been possible to increase spending on wildfire prevention education between 2002-2007, an additional dollar spent on wildfire prevention education in Florida would have reduced wildfire related losses and suppression costs by $35 – a benefit to cost ratio of 35:1. This ratio may not be applicable to other states and prevention programs because of differences in fire regimes, values at risk, and suppression costs.”

Looking at the concept of disaster preparedness, the Dept. of Homeland Security also did a study that suggested …” every dollar spent on disaster preparedness can save $4 in disaster response and recovery costs. For wildfires, the cost-benefit ratio may be even higher.”

Another important consideration is safety. Every fire that is prevented, eliminates the risk of a firefighter getting hurt or killed trying to suppress it.


Mulch is commonly used for residential and commercial garden landscaping for aesthetic purposes, reducing weed establishment, conserving moisture in the soil, and to maintain soil temperatures. Because it is composed of organic residue including shredded bark, leaves, hay, woodchips and other products, it is also a highly combustible material.

The ignition potential of mulch from a fire source such as a cigarette butt is underestimated because a fire won't necessarily start right away. It can take anywhere from an hour to a day or more after a cigarette butt is thrown into it before open flames appear. During that time the fire can expand quite a distance under the top layer without any visible notice. This may, in part, be attributed to people typically placing new mulch over old mulch creating an accumulation whereby the old layers underneath become dry and brittle and more combustible.

Fires that started in garden mulch have had devastating results on Prince Edward Island (Canada) the past number of years; none more than the 29 unit senior’s apartment building and 16 unit motel that burned this past summer. Luckily no one was seriously injured but results could have been very different.

Investigation into the apartment building fire indicated that the mulch was smoldering for approximately 8 hrs before it ignited in open flames and leapt up the building. Residents smelled the smoke the day before but just thought it was a neighbor with a recreational campfire in the backyard (which is a common occurrence on PEI); therefore, didn’t give it a second thought and didn’t take a look to be sure. The exact cause of these two fires is undetermined but is “highly likely’’ a discarded cigarette or piece of glass (which focuses intense heat into the mulch) is the culprit. Other major fires in recent years that started in garden mulch include an historic post office, a town hall, and a restaurant. 

On PEI, local Island fire departments respond to three or four mulch fires per week in summer months. Many are believed to be ignited by people flicking their cigarettes out the window or into landscaped areas with no regard for consequences. Consideration must be given to placement and ‘risk’ when using mulch as a landscaping amendment. Simple measures can reduce the risk of fire affecting your home or property. Here are a number of considerations when using mulch around your property.

  • Use a non-combustible ground cover such as crushed rock, brick, or pea gravel within 1.5 m of your home or in high risk areas (e.g. where folks may smoke or discard cigarettes).
  • Any ‘fire’ smell should warrant someone taking a look.
  • If you are putting fresh mulch down, make sure you take the old mulch away - mulch layers should be no more than three (3) inches thick.
  • When homeowners are watering plants it is a good idea to dampen the mulch - that way it stays moist and eliminates the ignition point.
  • Ensure there are proper smoking receptacles to discard cigarette butts in high use areas.
  • Keep a 15 cm ground-to-siding non-combustable clearance on your home as many types of siding and siding are very flammable.
  • Design landscape and beautification areas with potential fire ignition points and spread in mind.

  • This fall and winter take the time to review your landscape options and plan for fire-safe gardens and beautification projects.


Another great 75th birthday item was initiated by our friends at the Mid-Atlantic Compact. It’s a special edition insert for Highlights magazine about Smokey Bear and wildfire prevention.