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Lookout for the Cookout: Grilling Safety Tips to Minimize House Fires and Injuries

Open flame on a grill

As Memorial Day approaches, families and friends begin to schedule gatherings and backyard barbecues to celebrate the long weekend that ushers in summer. According to the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association’s 2023 State of the Barbecue Industry, Memorial Day is the second most popular day for grilling (following Fourth of July).  Grill ownership is the norm in the U.S., with 80 percent of homeowners who own a grill

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), gas grills were the leading cause of structure fires from grills accounting for 84 percent of these fires. The NFPA also reports that these grills lead to approximately 8,900 house fires each year.

Before firing up the grill, learn safety tips to help minimize the risk of house fires, injuries, and accidents.

Table of Contents:

Gas Grill Safety Tips

  • Propane Grill Safety

Safety Tips for Charcoal Grills

Backyard Grill Tips

Camping Grill Safety 

Most Common Grilling Accidents

Gas Grill Safety Tips

Burgers being flipped on a gas grill

Gas grills are the leading cause of house fires from grilling. These grills are powered by natural gas or propane. They are dangerous because of the extreme flammability and volatility of natural gas. 

Most fire districts and municipalities restrict their use in multifamily residential buildings. They cannot and should not be used near deck railing or in close proximity to a home or building. The NFPA also advises to:

  • Instill a 36-inch rule for children and animals. Make sure they stay at least three feet away from the grill

  • Light the grill with the lid OPEN 

  • Never leave the grill unattended

  • Clean the grill regularly to clear out grease and other flammable residue

  • Never use the grill indoors

  • Call the fire department when individuals smell gas while grilling (get away from the grill!)

Propane Grill Safety

While propane and natural gas are different, many use the terms propane and gas interchangeably when talking about grills. For propane grills, the same safety tips apply. Don’t light the grill when the lid is closed, keep children and pets away from the grill (three feet!), don’t walk away from the grill when it’s lit, clean the grill regularly, and use the grill outdoors and away from buildings or deck rails.

Safety Tips for Charcoal Grills

Pulling off lid of a charcoal grill

Charcoal grills require unique safety tips. These grills require that individuals ignite them using another material to encourage the charcoal to burn. Some individuals use newspapers to start the fire, but charcoal fluid can also be used (per the NFPA). Keep these tips in mind:

  • Never use fuel (like propane) to ignite charcoal!

  • Keep children away from charcoal and the grill

  • Ensure the charcoal is fully extinguished before tossing it

Backyard Grill Tips

Whether individuals use charcoal or gas grills, safety is a priority! Keep all grills outdoors and away from homes, buildings, and deck posts. Flames can flare quickly, and anything nearby could ignite. 

Never throw fuel on a fire. The fuel ignites rapidly. Individuals never expect the vapors in the air to catch fire or the flame to engulf them. However, adding any fuel source to a fire can lead to severe and even fatal injuries.

After the food is prepared, don’t forget to extinguish the flame and turn off any fuel source. Charcoal must be fully extinguished before it can be discarded. One final tip: beware of dry conditions. During waves of extreme heat, grass and other vegetation becomes extremely dry, brittle and flammable. Do NOT grill in these conditions!

Camping Grill Safety

Hot dogs on a grill

When grilling at campsites, the available grills use charcoal for the fire source. Follow the standard charcoal grill tips. In addition, campers should understand that the smell of cooking food can lure animals (like bears) to the campsite. Properly dispose of or store all uneaten food. Otherwise, the wildlife may feast. Remember to keep all children away from campfires and camp grills. Always fully extinguish the fire after cooking. In addition, campsites or parks may post additional rules and grilling guidelines; always abide by campsite and park rules.

Most Common Grilling Accidents

What are the most common grilling accidents? The NFPA reports that burns are the most common injury from grilling, with 9,500 individuals visiting the ER because of grilling-related burns each year.

Host Safe Barbecues and Cookouts this Summer

Black Jack Fire Protection District urges residents to stay safe when grilling this summer. Remember to abide by the safety guidelines from the NFPA, and always follow the rules and guidelines at parks and campsites when grilling. While July is the leading month for grill fires, May is third for these fires. Be mindful of the grill, and enjoy a safe and delicious barbecue!

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