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Dry Lawn Conditions Prompt Safety Tips From Firefighters

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- You can almost hear your lawn crunching under foot. This heat wave is transforming our yards into tinder boxes.

"It would probably be good during this dry period to not do any of the outdoor fires," Mt. Lebanon Fire Lt. Mike Stohner said.

But with the Fourth of July holiday upon us, increasingly popular fire pits and outdoor grilling are part of the landscape.

Recently, Mt. Lebanon firefighters responded to a call after ashes from a fire pit were dumped in the wrong place.

"And they smoldered with the trash and created a small fire in a garage," Stohner said.

Lt. Stohner recommends a separate metal container for ash disposal.

"Allow them to sit to at least two days before you do anything with them."

Place your fire pit in an open space on a solid surface – never on a wooden deck or in an enclosed area.

Also for safety sake, start your fire small using wood, fire logs or charcoal. Don't use an accelerant.

The fire should be no wider than three feet and no higher than two feet. Avoid burning on windy days. Use a wire mesh cover to control sparks.

And keep a fire extinguisher, pail of sand or garden hose handy to smother flames if there's trouble.

When in doubt about burning in your backyard, contact your local municipality to see what the rules are.

Every year dozens of fires are fed by decorative garden mulch. Pine needles, shredded bark and wood chips are highly flammable organic materials.

"When we do see mulch fires, it almost always is due to improper disposal of cigarettes," Stohner explained.

Lack of rain, and hot, dry conditions are a perfect recipe for brush and mulch fires. If mulch is banked against a home, it can lead to major losses.

A recent fire in a Beechview duplex started in mulch, according to city firefighters.

"And if the mulch is close to the house, it will melt the siding or get into the building," Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones said.

A tossed cigarette isn't the only culprit. Mulch has also been known to spontaneously combust – usually in large piles rather than garden beds.

"It's a natural phenomenon," says Jones. "It's heat caused by decomposition. That's what mulch does - it burns."

Shredded mulch ignites much faster than the chunky variety. Hardwood barks are safer than some others.

To avoid mulch or brush fires, never discard cigarettes from a moving vehicle. Only put cigarette butts in approved containers.

When possible, douse a cigarette with water before tossing it. Provide an 18-inch clearance between mulch and combustible material and if possible, keep landscaping mulch beds moist in this heave wave.

"When you're watering your lawn, water your mulch too," Jones said.

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