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Throw another one on the grill, but be careful

by Staff Sgt. Randy Redman
Thunderbolt editor

Fire in the grill, under hot dogs and burgers, is a welcome sight at the family cookout. But fire anywhere else can make your summer kick-off barbecue memorable for all the wrong reasons. Many people are injured each year because they did not take a few simple safety measures.

In 1999, gas and charcoal grills caused 1,500 structure fires and 4,200 outdoor fires in or on home properties, resulting in a combined direct property loss of $29.8 million. Most of these fires occurred as a result of the grill being placed too close to the house or wooden deck.

Although no flames may be seen directly affecting the house itself, radiant heat produced from a grill can penetrate the house's siding and reach structural members creating a fire inside. Because the fire is within the structure, it can smolder for hours or even days before it is discovered; usually when it is too late.

Before getting started this weekend, there are a few things to keep in mind when firing up the grill.

Place the grill a safe distance from lawn games, play areas and foot traffic. This is especially important if you have children.

Periodically remove grease or fat buildup in trays below the grill so it cannot be ignited by the heat. If you have a charcoal grill, purchase the proper starter fluid and store the can out of reach of children, and away from heat sources.

For propane grills, check the propane cylinder hose for leaks before using it. A light soap and water solution applied to the hose will quickly reveal escaping propane producing bubbles. Have leaking fuel lines repaired before using.

All propane cylinders manufactured after April 2002 must have Overfill Protection Devices. OPDs shut off the flow of propane before capacity is reached, limiting the potential for release of propane gas if the cylinder heats up. OPDs are easily identified by their triangular-shaped hand wheel.

In the event of a grill fire, remain calm and take the necessary actions for the type of grill in use. For propane grills, turn off the burners. If you can safely reach the tank valve, shut it off. If the fire involves the tank, leave it alone, evacuate the area and call the fire department at 911.

For charcoal grills, close the grill lid. Disconnect the power to electric grills. Never attempt to extinguish a grease fire with water. It will only cause the flames to flare up.

Use an approved portable fire extinguisher. As with any fire, if there is any threat to your personal safety or the fire endangers property, always dial 911.

Propane and charcoal grills must only be used outdoors. If used indoors, or any enclosed spaces, such as tents, or enclosed balconies in housing, they pose both a fire hazard and risk of exposing occupants to toxic gases and potential asphyxiation.

Barbecue grills should be sited on level ground away from fences, trees, sheds or anything else that may catch fire. On MacDill, grills must be placed at least 10 feet from any structure.

Always dress correctly when cooking - arms and legs should be protected and long hair tied back.

Remember to use only proper fire lighters or fluid. Never pour flammable liquids onto coals after the fire has been lit. It is extremely dangerous to substitute any other combustible liquid to start the coals.

Barbecue grills should not be moved once lit - the metal parts become very hot during use.

Ensure only one person is in charge of the cooking - too many cooks cause accidents.

Cooking and drinking alcohol DO NOT mix. Let someone who is sober flip the steaks.

Utensils used for cooking should have long handles. Be sure to use a cooking mitt as well.

Ensure that a bucket of water or sand is kept near by. When you finish cooking put the fire out - do not leave it to burn out. Empty the ashes onto bare garden soil.

 

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