Mulch fire.... At MY house

Discussion in 'Landscape Lighting' started by Green Sweep, Oct 27, 2013.

  1. Green Sweep

    Green Sweep LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 321

    This has happened a few times with customers and now it happened to me. I went into my garage this morning and smelled something burning. After looking around the house, I went outside to see my mulch smoldering and on fire in places. Wtf? I built my home two years ago and installed lighting. Kichler LED's and Kichler 300w transformer. The wire connections are perfect (no frayed wires sticking out of wirenuts, etc). I haven't investigated where the fire started yet because I just hosed the area off - will repair later today. After two years of being in the ground, how in the hell does this happen? Why do the breakers in the transformer not trip? The area of the fire is on a steep hill so I know my kids weren't playing there (which shouldn't make a difference anyway) I took a picture but do not know how to upload from iPhone.
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  2. ReddensLawnCare

    ReddensLawnCare LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,652

    I know this seems far off and probably is not the case but are you using cheap mulch. I have seen mulch piles catch fire at the dump all the time and a few times at a small supply yard here. I instal a lot of mulch and have never had a problem with mulch catching fire. What was the cause at your customers
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  3. Green Sweep

    Green Sweep LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 321

    Quite honestly I don't know the difference between cheap mulch and expensive mulch. I use double shredded dyed at roughly $30/yard. The customers that this has happened to use the same. I never really figured out "why" this has happened at my customers. Just replaced the wires and problem solved. It has only happened to three or four customers (out of roughly 600 installed lighting systems).
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  4. djagusch

    djagusch LawnSite Platinum Member
    from MN
    Posts: 4,202

    I have heard it all now!
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  5. ReddensLawnCare

    ReddensLawnCare LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,652

    You have never heard of mulch piles catching fire? Google it. Happens a lot at compost facilities
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  6. bp lawn

    bp lawn LawnSite Member
    Posts: 99

    Its called spontaneous combustion. Its just like hay, as it it starts to decompose it heats up. Google it. Hay barns have been known to burn to the ground because of spontaneous combustion.
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  7. ReddensLawnCare

    ReddensLawnCare LawnSite Bronze Member
    Posts: 1,652

    I knew it had a name just couldn't think of it.
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  8. RussellB

    RussellB LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 6,027

    Only time I've seen mulch catch fire in a mulch bed is when someone has thrown a lit cigerette in it. It dang sure didn't just heat up and go up in smoke. Also you would think if it were electrical that a breaker should have tripped prior to igniting a fire.
  9. Roger

    Roger LawnSite Fanatic
    Posts: 5,917

    Three seasons ago, we were starting a weekly mowing vacation cover (four straight weeks) for a customer we had serviced for vacation in past seasons. I've worked for this man now for about eight seasons, 2-6 week vacation covers -- never met him.

    Anyway, it was a hot day in August. The owners had left the week before for the four week vacation in New Zealand. I smelled smoke, and saw smoke as we pulled up. On the SE corner of the house, the mulch was afire. It had apparently burned for a few days. About 150 sq ft of mulch was burned, or singed. Green bushes in the area were brown on the underside from the heat. At this time, small flickers of flame were visible in several locations. The frightening part was the fire was burning was happening around the gas meter! Small flames were licking the side of the meter. Yikes!!!

    I was concerned about the fire having penetrated the basement wall, through the openings of the piping. The house was at the end of a cul-de-sac, so no neighbors to see it. I am surprised that others did not smell it, or, if they did, chose to ignore.

    I called the ADT number, and had a terrible time reaching somebody. I explained I was not the homeowner, had no security information, but found this fire. The called the fire department. Meanwhile, I scrambled from house to house on the street to find somebody with a hose. I found one, and started dousing the flames. The FD rolled up and took over.

    They explained that finding mulch fires from spontaneous combustion was not unusual. The merely continued to use the garden hose I found to smother the fire. We went about our business of mowing. The FD was still there, and I told them where to return the garden hose.

    In this case, we had no access to the home owners. However, the ADT contact was a nephew, living only about a quarter mile away. He came immediately. He had a key, but no security code. ADT would not give it to him, and he was unable to gain access to the house. The FD assured us they were certain the fire had not spread to the inside of the basement. The nephew was outraged, but I was impressed ADT did not give him the access code. However, I was unimpressed with ADT on their initial handling of my call. I spent about 15 minutes reaching somebody. It is a good thing the issue was not an emergency of greater importance.

    Having said all that, three major lessons learned from this experience: (1) Spontaneous combustion mulch fires are not uncommon, (2) Do not leave a house unattended for more than a day (somebody stopping by to make a quick daily walk-around would have spotting this fire days earlier), (3) If you provide an emergency contact for the security system, give that person the key AND security code. The key did no good -- the nephew did not have the code.

    BTW - I documented it all with pictures and provided them to the owner when they returned from New Zealand four weeks later. We were rewarded with a very nice gift card. He was extremely grateful, and has revised his "away time" procedures.
  10. Will P.C.

    Will P.C. LawnSite Senior Member
    Posts: 965

    I had a of couple 2 liter plastic bottles filled with compost 'syrup'. It was more like compost paste but was made at an actual compost farm. The stuff was hard to work with so I just left it in the garage and forgot about it over the summer. About 1 month ago, I hear this "boom" in the garage around midnight. Sounded like a freaking bomb went off. I freaked out, grabbed the gun, and rushed out to the garage. Long story short, compost bottle had exploded everywhere. Ceilings, walls, brand new car, tools, etc looked like some had taken 5 gallons of **** and vandalized the garage.

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