VACo Opposes Bill Limiting Regulation of Fire Hazard Posed by Mulch

February 19, 2018

A simple requirement adopted by the City of Harrisonburg to keep “combustible landscape cover material” (i.e. mulch) at least 18 inches from a structure, has prompted a legislative proposal to prevent any locality from adopting common-sense rules to prevent a building from going up in flames due to mulch being too close to a structure. Specifically, HB 1595 (Wilt) and SB 972 (Obenshain), would allow any property to continue to add mulch to an existing landcover, no matter how close to a building, regardless of any local ordinance preventing the addition of such ignition sources in proximity to structures.

In recent years, Harrisonburg and other localities have experienced apartment building fires caused by mulch, too close to a structure, catching fire when a lit cigarette is discarded. Their simple, yet effective solution, to require a separation between the mulch and the building, was recently upheld in a court decision. This bill invalidates the court decision and prevents all localities from adopting such a requirement. It is important to note that the Harrisonburg ordinance does not require removal of any existing mulch, just a prohibition on adding to such within 18 inches of a building. Other non-flammable ground cover options are still available for use.

Action Required – Contact your Legislators to oppose HB 1595 and SB 972.  HB 1595 passed the House and will be heard in Senate Local Government Committee on Tuesday afternoon February 20. SB 972 has been assigned to House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee.

KEY POINTS

  • Virginia should continue to allow localities to require a separation between combustible mulch and a building. Such a separation prevents fires and potentially saves lives.
  • Other options exist for replacing existing groundcover with non-flammable material.


KEY CONTACTS

Senate Local Government Committee: Stanley (Chairman), Hanger, Marsden, Favola, Lewis, Surovell, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Chase, Sturtevant, McPike, Carrico, McClellan

House Counties, Cities and Towns Committee: Ingram (Chairman), Stolle (Vice Chair), Marshall, Poindexter, Morefield, Wilt, Hodges, Webert, Campbell, McGuire, Thomas, Pillion, Herring, Heretick, Boysko, Bell, John J., Krizek, Mullin, Hayes, Guzman, Reid, Roem

VACo Contact: Joe Lerch, AICP

Topic Tags: Capitol Contact, Joe Lerch

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