NEW: Discarded Cigarettes Likely Cause Of Apartment, Restaurant Fires

Posted: April 24, 2014

Daily News-Record

Harrisonburg firefighters responded to two fires Wednesday night, both likely a result of cigarettes tossed into mulch piles.

Deputy Fire Chief Ian Bennett with the Harrisonburg Fire Department said mulch fires are common this time of year, in large part because of the weather.

“You have to have the right amount of humidity …  about 20 percent … and that’s what it is about now,” said Bennett. This is also the time of year when businesses and apartment complexes are laying down fresh mulch. The fires often start from carelessly discarded cigarettes.

The first fire Wednesday happened at about 7:15 p.m. on Copper Beech Circle in the Copper Beech Townhomes.

The fire started in a mulch bed and caught the vinyl siding on fire.

The blaze was “more than likely caused by a discarded cigarette,” Bennett said.

“It was contained quickly and the damage was limited to the exterior of the building,” he said, adding that damage was estimated to be about  $2,500.

The second fire happened shortly after 8 p.m. at O’Neill’s Grill, located at 221 University Blvd.

Bennett said witnesses confirmed a cigarette was thrown into a mulch bed, which sparked the fire. The fire spread to the siding and extended into the restaurant’s crawl space, causing about $5,000 in damage.

A third fire — also likely caused by someone discarding a cigarette onto a mulch bed — that caused extensive damage and displaced several residents occurred on April 10 at the Chestnut ridge apartment complex.

Heavy winds that day caused the blaze to spread quickly to the vinyl siding and up the building, damaging six apartments. The fire caused about $250,000 in damage and left more than 20 people homeless.

Besides the obvious advice about not throwing cigarettes into mulch beds, Bennett said businesses and apartment complex could switch to rock rather than mulch.

“It’s a little more costly but there are huge benefits,” he said.

Contact Pete DeLea at 574-6278 or

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