A large mound of mulch that has been steadily growing at the Convenience Station in Graham has exposed a fire risk for the city.

Assistant Fire Chief Jerry David said that the Graham Fire Department contained a spontaneous fire at the convenience station that started shortly after noon on Sunday, Jan. 12.

“That mulch is stacked up so big that if it gets a little heat in it, if you don’t get it stirred up enough then it will catch on fire, and Sunday it did,” David said.

David said that the fire spread past the mulch pile before it was contained, but it didn’t affect any property, and he is thankful that it didn’t become larger given Sunday afternoon’s heavy winds. He explained that spontaneous heating was the cause of the fire, stating that once the brush and other waste material gets ground up and added to the existing mulch pile, the deterioration process of the newly added mulch builds heat within the structure.

In order to prevent spontaneous fires, David said that the pile must be stirred up in order to aerate it, but that process doesn’t always work.

“That pile is packed high, so it’s difficult for air to get in there,” David explained. “So heat keeps building up inside the pile with little air getting in, and sometimes the heat can build to the point of starting a fire. So they stir the mulch pile as much as they can, but sometimes there’s a hot spot that doesn’t get aerated, and that’s what can cause a fire.”

The GFD had the small blaze under control by 2:24 p.m. on Sunday, and the mulch pile is being watched, but city officials are currently planning a campaign to reduce the mound to a safer size.

In order to encourage citizens to help out with the process, the mulch is being given away from now until an undetermined point in the future. The promotion is dubbed the Mulch Mountain Giveaway, and its timing is convenient, not only for the reduced risk of spontaneous fires, but also for the current water conservation effort in Graham, a city that has implemented stage 2 water restrictions since November.

Read the entire story in Wednesday's Graham Leader.