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Is Bamboo Flammable?

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Wildfires and flammable plants

Hot and dry summers, as well as drought, are a serious concern for people living in environments at risk of major wildfires. 

The easiest landscaping strategies to reduce the risk of fire damage to your property are avoiding plants that are very flammable and help spread fires as well as choosing plants that help prevent fires. 

However, you can not avoid the risk a hundred percent. All plants can burn if they are dried out dead,  poorly maintained, or drought-stressed enough. 

Regular maintenance like watering, pruning, and removing dead leaves from the ground can greatly diminish the risk of fire.

However, highly flammable plants even when well maintained can ignite quickly and release a lot of heat, especially in a drought. 

Typical characteristics of highly flammable plants include:

  • Dry and dead leaves or twigs
  • Dry, leathery leaves
  • Dense foliage
  • Foliage with low moisture
  • Needle-like leaves
  • High oil or resin including gums or terpenes
  • Rough or peeling bark
  • Lots of dead leaves fallen on the ground

Bamboo plants – flammable

While bamboo makes beautiful privacy screens and creates an exotic, tropical look in a landscape, they are, unfortunately, considered flammable plants. Since they are tall, relatively dry, and grow close together, bamboo can quickly spread a fire.

All bamboo species (and there are more than 1500 of them) are considered fire-prone when planted in dry hot areas.

Thre are no known exceptions to this, because while very diverse, all bamboo share more or less the same fire-prone characteristics. 

All bamboos form tight clusters of culms. These clusters tend to accumulate lots of decay-resistant, dead material and inhibit the removal of internal dead culms.  

They all shed dry, shaded out leaves all year round while also retaining dead leafless twigs.  Leaf and culm sheaths also get caught up in these dense clumps and dead culms are often buried in there making it difficult to impossible to remove them.

All of this basically means – there is a lot of dry easily flammable fuel for a spreading fire. The bigger in size and thickness the cluster of bamboo the more fire it can feed. 

Some bamboo species are short and have very thin culms so they have less fuel volume. But they also lose moisture more quickly when exposed to hot dry winds compared to larger species.

Bamboo as a construction material

Before building or renovating a house, flammability of the materials they want to use is one among other factors for homeowners and builders to consider. 

Although it is actually a grass, bamboo is used as wood in home construction. Bamboo is getting more and more popular as environmentally friendly building materials are coming into use. 

In many ways bamboo and wood are similar when it comes to using in construction however one difference is – bamboo is more heat resistant, it can withstand heat up to 400 degrees.

This does not mean it will not catch flames, it`s still a natural and flammable material and all local building codes for fire safety must be complied with. 

Bamboo can be treated with solutions to help longer preservation and higher fire resistance. 

There are many solutions that can be used.

Here is one I found on the Guadua Bamboo website: For structural bamboo, you take boric acid: copper sulfate: zinc chloride: sodium dichromate in ratio 3:1:5:6. They recommend a 25% concentration both for indoor and outdoor use. 

The outer layer of bamboo doesn’t absorb fluids, only the inner part, therefore to apply the mixture the bamboo poles should be submerged in it. 

Bamboo fabric

All fabrics can burn, but some are more combustible than others. Bamboo fabric is no more flammable than cotton. And it is less flammable than polyester. 

When thinking about flammability, you should also know that heavy, tight weave fabrics of the same material will burn more slowly than loosely woven light fabrics. This is because the tighter the weave the less oxygen can get to the separate threads. 

Featured image by Matt Buck, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0