CLEVELAND - Just in time for you to spruce up your yard with flowers and mulch, there's a warning from firefighters. The mulch you lay in your yard could catch fire and cause thousands of dollars in damage.
"I heard windows breaking,” homeowner Rick Vaccarella said. "I just saw big orange flames breaking through the window so my first thought was the basement was on fire." Firefighters ruled out anything electrical on the ground floor, but said they believe the fire started at the ground level in the mulch.
"I've been to maybe a half-dozen (mulch house fires) in my career, but this year it's something else,” said Frank Root III, a fire chief in Ohio.
His saw just one mulch-related fire last May. This year, they’ve been to 12. It's not the only city where it's happening.
"The only thing we can really attribute it to is just the dry weather, and the extremely mild spring that we had," Root said.
Vaccarella said insurance investigators told him there might be another culprit that created a perfect storm with the dry mulch.
"The thought process was the angle of the sun was coming off this window here glaring down there,” Vaccarella said, as he pointed to a bay window that sat atop his house. It also was a windy day.
Reflected sunlight can magnify and burn anything in its path. It's a phenomenon we first told you about last September . The sun reflects off certain windows and creates a magnifying glass effect.
We bought an energy efficient window and directed it toward the sun. Within minutes, we melted a plastic bag. Typically, the damage is far worse. Siding at a Parma home melted. Across the country, paint is bubbling and pool covers melting.
Anything in the path of this unnatural light can be damaged.
"That was the first I heard of it,” Vaccarella said.
His fire is still under investigation, but he said initial reports point to the sun, windows and mulch. He's just counting his blessings thankful he worked from home the day the fire started.
"One aspect I don't feel so lucky. The other aspect I feel kind of lucky,” Vaccarella said.
The damage is estimated between $35,000 to 50,000, but firefighters said a few minutes later and it would have been more extensive.
To protect your home, lay your mulch away from your home. So many people put it up against the siding.
Pay attention to warning signs. One homeowner I spoke to said she smelled smoke at 8 in the morning and didn't know what it was. By three o'clock her house was on fire. These mulch fires usually smolder for awhile before they ignite.
You can also water your mulch to keep it from getting too dry, but you don’t want it too moist or too deep. Fungus is known to develop in mulch. Under certain conditions, that fungus sprays like a shotgun leaving dark specs all over . It can spot your fence, car, or siding. It’s really hard to remove.
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