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Why Apartments Should Switch From Pine Straw

Digested From “Firefighters Urge Apartment Complexes to Make Switch From Pine Straw”
Wilmington Star-News (NC) (09/26/13) March, Julian

Firefighters warn that pine straw burns twice as hot as cypress mulch and, once lit, spreads the flame more than seven feet per minute. This has prompted several North Carolina cities to regulate the use of pine straw in apartment settings. Apartment communities are a special concern because small fires can quickly turn catastrophic, placing a large number of people in danger at one time.  

The Wilmington Fire Department (WFD) has petitioned for certain apartments to limit the use of pine straw, but has stopped short of calling for an outright ban. Instead, Battalion Chief Sammy Flowers is hoping to convince apartment owners and managers to select another landscaping material. He states, "We'd rather have community buy-in." At the very least. the fire department wants new apartment developments and existing communities to agree to limit the use of pine straw. In the past 13 years, there have been 32 fires involving pine straw that have damaged multifamily housing throughout Wilmington, WFD statistics show.  

Apartment owners and managers use pine straw because it is cheaper. If a given apartment community was going to spend $10,000 on mulch, it could probably pay $8,000 for pine straw, states Frank Hendrickson, owner of Coastal Lawn and Design. Pine trees, meanwhile, are particularly abundant in southeastern North Carolina.  Cindy Harrison, president of the Wilmington Apartment Association, notes that apartment management staff can take advantage of pine trees by raking up the needles that fall year-round to use as landscaping. She adds, "We do try to use what nature's already given us.  I would say a lot of the apartment communities do use pine straw."  

Of course, no landscaping material is perfect. Wood chips can create mold in wet conditions. Rocks, meanwhile, can be thrown through windows and cause other property damage. Harrison urges owners and managers to be proactive with educating residents about fire hazards. One way to do this is to post safety tips in newsletters and in all lease agreements.

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