New City Mulch Ordinance

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What you need to know:

On May 10, 2016 Harrisonburg City Council amended and re-enacted an ordinance that regulates how combustible landscape cover material (such mulch) may be used for landscaping against buildings. Originally approved in April 2015, we will explain why the ordinance is important, and help citizens and property owners understand how the new ordinance applies to them.

Since January 2008 through December 2014, the Harrisonburg Fire Department responded to over 200 fires involving mulch. 78% of these fires occurred during the months of April and September when outdoor fire dangers are significantly higher. 16 of these fires caused damage to structures, over half of which were multiple family dwellings (apartment complexes). These incidents combined have resulted millions of dollars in damage and losses, though luckily resulted in no civilian deaths. 

The mission of the Harrisonburg Fire Department is to serve the public in protecting them from loss of life and damage to property.  Adopting a combustible landscape material setback ordinance reduces the risk to life and property associated with mulch fires. The full ordinance is available for download on this webpage but the basic information is as follows: 

  • Combustible landscape material (such as mulch) shall not be placed within 18 inches of buildings with combustible siding (such as wood, vinyl, masonite, etc).
  • The ordinance applies to the following Occupancy Classifications: A, B, E, F, H, I, M, R-1, R-2, R-4 as defined by the Virginia Construction Code, and to detached single family R-3 and R-5 residential structures being utilized as a child care or adult care facility.  Visit the 2012 Virginia Construction Code for a description of these occupancies.
  • While most City single-family homes do not apply to this ordinance, HFD highly recommends not using combustible landscape materials (such as mulch) against combustible siding.
  • The ordinance does not apply where non-combustible building foundations (concrete, block, brick, etc) rise at least 6 feet above the combustible landscape material.
  • The ordinance takes effect immediately; combustible landscape materials in existence on the effective date will not require removal, however, no new material may be added within 18 inches of the buildings outlined above.

Read the full ordinance.


Questions should be directed to the Fire Marshal's office at the Harrisonburg Fire Department: call 540-432-7703 or email

Chestnut Ridge Apartments Fire

 (This apartment fire took place on Chestnut Ridge Drive on April 10, 2014. A fire was caused by a discarded cigarette in the mulch against the building. Nobody was injured; the fire caused an estimated $1 Million worth of property damage and income loss.)