MEDIA BAKER Y
travel & recreation
Grill fire safety
Avoid the backyard burn
By Rita Colorito
WITH MEMORIAL DAY around the corner, you
probably have thoughts of breaking out the grill for
that first sizzling summer feast. The possibility of a
devastating fire likely doesn’t enter your mind.
Summer’s a prime season for backyard burns—
and not the kind you get from the sun. While indoor
cooking accounts for the majority of U.S. house fires,
the outdoor kitchen—grills, hibachis and barbecues—poses problems of its own. Each year outdoor
grills cause an average of 7,700 house fires, $70
million in property damage, 13 deaths and 17,700
emergency room visits, according to the National
Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy,
But there are things you can do to safeguard
your home and family.
fluid, away from the grill. And go easy on the starter
fluid. “One of the biggest mistakes is using too much
starter fluid,” says Carli. “Once your fire is going, don’t
add additional starter fluid.” Starter fluid is a factor in
about 25 percent of thermal injuries caused by char-coal- and wood-burning grills.
including those caused by
campfires and grills, as well
as arson, fireworks and yard-waste burning, caused 64,807
wildfires on federal and state
land in 2010, according to the
U.S. Forest Service.
“So you can understand why
Smokey Bear is still relevant.
We want people to put out
every fire they start,” says
Helene Cleveland, the Forest
Service’s fire prevention program manager.
To prevent forest fires,
Cleveland offers these tips:
Place grills on solid, dirt-only ground.
Location, location, location
Improper grill placement—too close to wooden
materials, such as a fence or siding—can turn your
home to tinder.
“You want a 3-foot area away from things that
can burn, including your home,” says Carli, who also
advises placing grills out from under any overhanging trees, eaves or pergolas.
These guidelines also apply to popular fire pits
and chimeneas, which should never be placed on a
wooden structure. “You want them to be placed on
a very sturdy ground area, so that they don’t get
tipped over,” says Carli. And never place any fire
vessel in a walkway or play area, where children can
bump them. In 2009, children age 5 or younger
accounted for 22 percent of thermal burns from
grills, mostly from contact, according to data from
the Consumer Product Safety Commission.
Never place a tabletop grill
directly onto a wooden surface or picnic table. Always
place a metal tray or cookie
Pay attention to park postings on wind and dryness
conditions, which could
send an ember flying.
Never start a fire under or
near any trees or bushes.
Gas grills account for 81 percent of grills
involved in house fires. The main culprit: a gas leak.
“As you are getting ready for grill season, inspect
your grill and make sure that it’s in good working
order,” says Lorraine Carli, vice president of communications for the NFPA. To check for leaks, apply
a light water-and-soap solution to the gas hose. If
you see bubbles, you have a leak.
“Turn off the gas tank and the grill,” advises
Carli. “If the leak stops, get the grill serviced. If the
leak doesn’t stop, contact the fire department.”
For built-in grills, a common mistake is making
an improper fuel connection, says Shiva Noble,
executive vice president of Costco grill supplier Cal
Flame in Pomona, California. “[You] should always
use a certified plumber to convert the grill from [liq-
uid propane to natural gas],” says Noble.
To prevent the leading cause of charcoal grill
fires, responsible for 17 percent of fires, place any
combustible items, such as paper products and starter
To dispose of hot coals, look
for designated metal deposi-tories or bring your own
Fight flare-ups right
Occasionally, built-up grease catches fire. “If you
can safely turn off the grill, that’s the best course of
action. Shut the cover and then the fire will typically
go down. If anything ever gets out of control, your
best course of action is to call the fire department and
get away from it,” says Carli. While fire extinguishers
are good for handling small, contained fires, the
NFPA doesn’t recommend them for grill fires.
To reduce flare-ups, remove grease buildup
from the grill and trays below. “Pull out the grates
and put them in the dishwasher,” says Noble. “People
sometimes get lazy, and they don’t want to clean it
until the next time they use it. But the best thing to
do is to clean it right away.” C
To make sure coals are dead
out, dump water onto them,
stir the ashes, dump more
water, stir again. Then feel
the coals gently to make
sure there are no hot spots.
If you must dump the coals
on the ground, find an area
of just dirt, away from the
If you accidentally start a
forest fire—and it’s just
starting—try to put it out
with water or an extinguisher. Always call 911 if
there’s ever any concern.
The Costco Connection
Costco members will find a wide assortment of
mobile and fixed grills and firepits, as well as fire
extinguishers, in the warehouse and on Costco.com.
For more fire prevention
tips, go to
Freelance writer Rita Colorito is a fire-conscious
freelance writer based in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.
MAY 2011 ;e Costco Connection 79