Grilling in the backyard seems safe, until it isn’t E! News UK


Barbecues and barbecues have become entrenched in our culture, especially during summer vacations. But grill fires are still a very real risk.
Image credit: Catie Dull

Clinging to the back of a fire truck racing through the streets of El Paso, Texas, firefighter Michael Pritchard knew the fire was going to be serious.

“You could see the smoke from miles away,” Pritchard recalls of the two-alarm fire that destroyed a garden apartment complex in the city.

It was in the late 1980s, and Pritchard had worked for the El Paso Fire Department for about five years. He would go on to serve 26 years with the department and respond to dozens of grill fires, but only one remained with the veteran fire safety professional 30 years and two careers later.

This particular fire is indelible because it was so severe and completely preventable. The cause of the fire? A charcoal barbecue, two women in their twenties and a simple mistake.

The day before the fire that ravaged the complex, the two women grilled their dinner outside. After eating, they went to bed, leaving the charcoal to cool overnight. The next day, they threw the ashes in their kitchen trash can. The couple left for work and by mid-afternoon the trash was on fire.

The fire first spread to their kitchen, then passed through the rest of their apartment and eventually engulfed the building in an inferno that sent black smoke over El Paso.

Pritchard still remembers this fire because the two women did almost everything right. They cleaned the grill after I finished cooking. They roasted outside where smoke could escape. And they let the charcoal cool overnight.

But Pritchard says the night was not long enough. He warns that charcoal and ash can stay hot much longer than it appears. So when the women put the charcoal in their kitchen trash the next morning, the ashes smoldered for a few hours before igniting the trash in the afternoon.

Grill fires are a poorly understood risk

Pritchard is now the chief of the fire prevention and information arm of the U.S. Fire Administration, and he warns that too many Americans today do not understand the risks associated with grilling. Barbecues and barbecues have become ingrained in our culture, especially on holidays such as Memorial Day or Independence Day, making them feel safe and familiar. But Pritchard warns that grill fires are still a very real risk.

Susan McKelvey of the National Fire Protection Association agrees. She adds that the overconfidence people feel when grilling in their backyard also stems from the location.

“People feel safe in their homes,” she says, “and so that overconfidence breeds complacency. “

This state of mind can be devastating. Each year, according to the National Fire Protection Association, an average of 19,700 patients visit emergency rooms nationwide for grilling-related injuries. Forty-eight percent suffered thermal burns, and 4 in 10 of these thermal burn patients are children under the age of 5.

As the two young women of El Paso experienced, charcoal barbecues cause an average of 1,300 home fires across the country each year, according to data from the National Fire Protection Association. Gas grills are responsible for nearly seven times as many fires, with an average of 8,900 home fires caused by them each year.

These fires can be fatal. McKelvey points out that 80% of civilian fire deaths in the United States occur in home fires.

“House fires happen every day,” she says, “and nearly 3,000 people die in house fires each year. Most of them are preventable, the vast majority.

Adopting safe grilling habits is crucial. According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, two-thirds of American adults own a barbecue or smokehouse, and 68% of them plan to have a barbecue on July 4. If that includes you, be sure to check out these top grill safety tips.

As Pritchard likes to say, “Fire is everyone’s struggle.

Installation of your grill station

When you first take out your grill at the start of the grilling season, McKelvey says it’s essential to check for any nests, beehives, or animals perched inside before cleaning up any excess. grease or charcoal from previous use.

She also recommends placing your grill on a flat, sturdy surface at least 3 feet from any structure, such as your home or shed. Do not grill under decks, awnings, eaves, umbrellas or tree branches. Pay attention to the proximity of the grill to dry vegetation, tablecloths and outdoor decoration such as balloons or streamers.

Safety of propane barbecues

If you use a propane barbecue, check regularly for leaks and always check before the first use of the season. McKelvey suggests performing the soapy water test. Mix some dish soap or detergent with water and brush or spray the solution onto the hose and connectors. Turn on the gas. If bubbles do form, immediately shut off the gas – you have a leak and will need to repair or replace the hose or tank.

When you start your gas grill, Pritchard says keeping the lid open is essential. A closed lid can cause gas to build up, which can cause an explosion when you turn on the grill.

Once you are finished grilling, National Fire Protection Association guidelines recommend storing propane tanks in an upright position at least 10 feet from dryer doors, windows, or vents, and away from the dryer. at least 20 feet from your home’s air vents. Do not store propane in a garage.

Safety of charcoal grills

When using a starting fluid to help ignite the charcoal, McKelvey says you should only use a fluid designed for charcoal. Do not use other flammable or volatile substances.

When you are done grilling, cool the charcoal and ashes completely. Grill makers Kingsford and Char-Broil both recommend closing the lid to smother the embers and allowing the ashes to cool for 48 hours. To speed up the cooling, sprinkle the embers with water. When it’s time to throw away the cooled ashes, place them in a metal container like an old coffee can or wrap them in foil before placing the wrapper in a bin with a lid.

While you grill

While you may be tempted to dress to impress, McKelvey says the clothes you wear when toasting shouldn’t be loose or have a fabric hanging down. And watch out for jewelry or watches that can conduct heat when exposed to the grill for long periods of time.

She also recommends gathering your food, plates, utensils, and other cooking materials before you start cooking. An unattended grill is a dangerous grill. If you’re hosting an event, McKelvey says a smart practice is to designate a family member or friend to be responsible for getting drinks and entertaining guests so you never have to leave the grill. Pritchard also adds that you should use long-handled cookware to avoid getting burned.

McKelvey and Pritchard both insist that a non-negotiable practice is to keep children and pets at least 3 feet from the grill at all times. Animals should stay indoors or in a confined space outdoors. McKelvey recommends sticking brightly colored duct tape on the floor to mark a boundary that is easily visible to children.

“Small things can make such a big difference,” she says. “It’s not rocket science.”

Daniel Lam is an intern at the NPR national office.

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