LOUDOUN COUNTY, Va. (DC News Now) — The Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal’s Office (LCFR-FMO) said spontaneously combusting mulch was responsible for a fire that destroyed a barn in Purcellville Tuesday.

Someone called firefighters around 4:30 p.m. after the barn caught fire and flames started to spread towards propane tanks on the property along Lincoln Road.

Crews got there and worked quickly to put out the fire. They stayed there for a long time to take care of any hot spots.

Investigators determined that the fire started accidentally after the mulch and potting soil from a flowerbox combusted spontaneously.  The damages to the barn and the things inside were around $532,000.

No people or animals were hurt.

“Spontaneous combustion can happen when a decomposing, organic material such as mulch generates enough heat to ignite without an outside source,” said System Chief Keith H. Johnson. “Because of this, a large or compacted area of mulch can create sufficient heat to spontaneously combust. Remember, in all cases, mulch fires are more likely to start when the weather is hot, and it has been dry for an extended period.”

Fires that start in mulch or other organic planting materials can spread quickly into shrubbery, up exterior walls and into a home or building. 

The Loudoun County Fire and Rescue Fire Marshal’s Office offered this guidance to help prevent mulch fires:

  • Maintain at least 18 inches of clearance between the edge of the mulch bed and combustible building materials, such as exterior vinyl siding and decks.
  • Keep landscaped mulch beds moist if possible. 
  • Recognize that hot and dry spells, along with windy conditions allow mulch fires to start more readily. 
  • Ensure proper clearance to electric devices, such as lights, by following the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Use non-combustible materials such as river rock, pea gravel or crushed rock for the first 18” around the base of a building with combustible siding and around gas and electrical meters.
  • Consider using brick or non-combustible exterior siding when building or renovating a structure.
  • Use only approved receptacles to dispose of matches, cigarettes, and cigars such as sturdy metal or ceramic containers filled with sand, located away from the structure.  
  • Immediately report any smoke or fire by calling 9-1-1.