Combustible Landscaping Materials Ordinance and FAQ's

Using pine straw as a landscaping material creates a potential fire threat to buildings with combustible exteriors. If the pine straw were to catch fire (from a tossed cigarette, for example) it could quickly spread to the building.

Fire Spread Rates for Combustible Landscaping Materials

Pine Straw: 90 inches per minute

Large Pine Bark: 4.8 inches per minute

Small Pine Bark: 6.3 inches per minute

Cypress: 11.5 inches per minute

To prevent this, the City Council has amended the city fire code to prohibit the use of pine straw or similar highly combustible landscaping materials within 10 feet of buildings that have combustible exteriors, such as wood, Masonite, aluminum or vinyl siding. 

The council approved the ordinance Nov. 15, 2021. It will take effect on Nov. 15, 2022.

Single-family and two-family (duplex) houses are exempted, unless they are being used for an R-4 day care or R-4 residential care home. 

Also exempted are commercial and multi-family residential buildings with non-combustible exteriors, such as brick, stone, stucco, metal, cement block, concrete or concrete siding (Hardi-Plank).

High Meadow Apartment Fire

During a fire Jan. 23, 2021 at the Loxley Chase apartments in Winston-Salem, burning pine straw quickly spread flames to the open stairwell between two buildings, engulfing the primary way out of those apartments.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Do I have to remove existing pine straw that was in place prior to the effective date? No, existing pine straw may remain but any additional pine straw within 10 feet of combustible exterior construction is prohibited.
  • What constitutes combustible exterior construction and non-combustible exterior construction?          Combustible exterior construction includes but is not limited to vinyl, aluminum, Masonite, or wood siding. Non-combustible exterior construction includes but is not limited to brick, stone, Hardi-Plank, stucco, concrete, or metal siding.
  • If I have non-combustible exterior construction extending 8 feet vertically and then combustible construction above that, can I utilize pine straw? No, the non-combustible exterior construction would have to extend at least 10 feet vertically from the ground.
  • Does this ordinance apply to townhomes? No. Townhomes are considered a private one-family dwelling, have no public common areas and are not subject to fire inspections. Condominiums do have common public areas and are subject to the regulations of this ordinance.
  • When I install other landscape cover materials such as bark, do I have to remove the existing pine straw? No, you can either remove the existing pine straw or place the new landscape cover material over the existing pine straw.
  • If I have pine trees that drop pine needles within 10 feet of combustible exterior construction, do I have to keep the pine needles raked up at least 10 feet from the exterior walls? No, pine needles that naturally fall from trees are not considered landscape cover material.
  • If I have non-combustible exterior construction with a wood deck or wood window frames, is my exterior wall still considered to be non-combustible construction? Yes, even with combustible window seals and frames or a deck, the wall would still be considered noncombustible.
  • Why does the ordinance reference a specific fire rate of spread of more than 24 inches per minute? The Winston-Salem Fire Department has an average response time of five minutes. If a landscape cover material has a fire rate of spread of 24 inches per minute, the flame would spread 10 feet in five minutes. Thus, the ordinance requires a 10-foot separation.
  • What is a "R-4" Home Daycare or Residential Care Home? A "R-4" Home Daycare provides accommodations for 6 to 16 children for less than a 24-hour period. A "R-4" Residential Care Home provides residential care/assisted living for 6 to 16 occupants.