May 24, 2012

Don’t let your Memorial Day cookout go up in smoke!

If you’ll be firing up the grill on Memorial Day weekend, take steps to keep your meal—and yourself—from going up in smoke.

Between 2005 and 2009, U.S. firefighters responded to 8,200 home fires involving outdoor cooking, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Five of every six grills involved in those fires were fueled by gas, while 13 percent used charcoal or other solid fuel.

Jimmy Maass, Virginia Farm Bureau’s safety manager, emphasized the importance of following the manufacturer’s setup and use instructions for any grill. And with the popularity of charcoal, electrical and propane smokers, it’s especially important to follow safety recommendations.

“The biggest thing with smokers is to not leave them unattended,” Maass said.
For any type of grilling or smoking, Maass suggests keeping a fire extinguisher and a spray bottle of water nearby, just in case.

“When the weather gets warm, everybody’s grilling. But for those who don’t grill year-round, it’s important to check all the equipment before you use it,” he said.

Check gas grills regularly for leaks in the connections, and make sure no spiders or hornets have built webs or nests in the connectors. “If there is a leak, do not ignite the grill until you’ve replaced the hose,” Maass said.

Store gas cylinders outside and away from houses, and turn off gas valves when done grilling. “If you smell gas while cooking, leave the area immediately and call the fire department,” Maass said. “Do not attempt to move the grill.”

For charcoal grills, “use only starter fluids designed for those grills,” Maass said. “Never use gasoline, and use a limited amount of starter fluid. If the fire is too slow, rekindle it with dry kindling and add more charcoal if necessary, but never add more liquid fuel or you could end up with a flash fire.”

Position any grill at least 3 feet from other objects, including the house and any shrubs. Never use a grill indoors or in a garage, as grills produce carbon monoxide. Avoid grilling on a covered or enclosed porch or on top of anything flammable, including wooden decks.

Of the home fires involving grills, the leading cause was flammable objects being too close to the grill, the NFPA reported.

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