According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, residential grill fires cause an average of 10 deaths, 100 injuries and $37 million in damages each year, and 57 percent of those fires occur during the months of May, June, July and August.
So, while it may be that time of year again where grilling becomes a favorite pastime, it’s important to remember to do so safely.
The Fort Leonard Wood Fire Department recommends grilling outside and away from any structures. FEMA specifies that there should be a minimum safe area of at least 3 feet surrounding the grill.
“Charcoal and gas grills are designed for outdoor use only,” said Mike Campbell, FLWFD fire inspector. “Pay attention to overhanging tree branches when you set up your grill.”
The National Fire Protection Association reported that 27 percent of home fires started by outdoor grills began in a courtyard, terrace or patio, and 29 percent started on an exterior balcony or open porch.
Backyard chefs should also make sure the grill is on stable ground, Campbell said.
“Only set up your grill on a flat surface and make sure the grill can’t be tipped over,” he said. “Consider using a grill pad or splatter mat underneath your grill to protect your deck or patio.”
And part of making sure a grill is ready includes cleaning it regularly – inside and out. The National Park Service issued a reminder for people to check for leaves or other vegetation around grills, as they can easily catch fire.
“Remove grease or fat buildup from both the grill and the tray below the grill,” Campbell said.
Charcoal grills present their own challenges, he said, like making sure the coals have had enough time to cool off before dumping them into a fire-safe container.
“If you use a charcoal grill, only use charcoal starter fluid,” he said. “If the fire starts to go out, don’t add any starter fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire. Consider using a charcoal chimney starter, which uses newspaper to start the fire instead of starter fluid.”
But for gas, it’s important to stay extra vigilant. The National Institute of Health’s Office of Research Services released an article reminding people to store, transport and use propane cylinders only in the upright position.
And regular maintenance is a must, since mechanical failures are common in grilling fires, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.
The NPS warned that gas grills can leak; if the smell of gas (which smells like rotten eggs) is present, the office said, stop cooking immediately, step away and call the fire department.
Campbell said there is an easy way to diagnose leaks before flipping the switch.
“Before the season’s first barbecue, check the gas tank hose for leaks by applying a light soap and water solution to the hose and then turning on the gas,” he said. “If there is a propane leak, the solution will bubble.”
He added that people should be cautious of a flame that won’t light, as that can also indicate a leak.
“If you are using a gas grill and the flame goes out, turn the grill and the gas off, then wait at least five minutes to re-light it,” Campbell said.
According to FEMA, many fires happen when users aren’t attentive around the grill. While a cookout is a social activity, FLWFD reminds community members not to let children or pets play around a grill or any open flame.
Clothing should also be taken into account. The NIH’s Office of Research Services warns that loose clothing can easily catch fire if not tied properly, so tie aprons and take care of long hair.
Even with necessary precautions being taken, fires can still happen, and residents should be ready to act, Campbell said.
“Have baking soda on hand to control a grease fire and a fire extinguisher nearby for other fires,” he said. “If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, keep a bucket of sand next to the grill.”
FLWFD stressed never put water on a grease fire as this can cause the fire to grow in size and spread rapidly.
For more information on grill fires, visit https://www.nfpa.org/ or call FLWFD at 573.596.0886.