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Bonfires and Barbecues: Summer Fire Safety Tips

There’s something about fire and warm summer evenings. Whether it’s just lighting up the grill or building a roaring fire in your backyard, the crackle of an open flame fits right in with summertime festivities.

It’s essential, though, to take steps to ensure that your summertime festivities don’t turn into a summertime tragedy. While the majority of house fires occur during fall and winter months when home heating fixtures and appliances are a common source of combustion, plenty of fires take place during the summer months, as well. Barbecue grills alone are responsible for a little over 10,000 house fires and 19,700 burn injuries a year in the US.

This month, we’ll examine some common summertime activities and how you can help avoid having your pleasant summer evening turn into a costly and dangerous house fire.

Barbecue Grill Fire Safety Tips

Is there anything better than a burger, hot dog, chicken leg, or steak fresh off a sizzling grill? Americans love to cook outside, with more than 20 million barbecue grills sold each year. But as with anything involving an open flame, safety is a priority when it comes to barbecues.

Fire Safety Tip #1: Locate Your Grill Somewhere Safe

Make sure that your backyard grill is located at a safe distance from any flammable materials, such as dry grass or leaves. You should also be careful not to position your grill underneath any overhanging tree branches, overhangs, or awnings.

Keep grills and other open-flame cookers at least ten feet away from any structures, including your house, garage, and any sheds or workshops.

Fire Safety Tip #2: Inspect Your Grill Regularly

A large number of house fires start because an old, poorly maintained grill fails, allowing the burning fuel to escape the barbecue and start a larger fire. Regular inspections of your barbecue grill can help you identify problems that need to be repaired or warrant replacing the grill.

  • Check for cracks in the grill’s metal structure and any rust that could penetrate the metal.
  • If you’re using a charcoal grill, inspect the lower grate to ensure it can properly hold enough charcoal for your needs.
  • If you’re using a gas grill, make sure you’re using a modern tank with adequate blowback and overfill protection (if the knob on top of the tank has three lobes, it’s a modern tank).
  • If you’re using a gas grill, check for gas leaks with a simple light soap-and-water solution in a standard spray bottle:
    • Connect the gas bottle to your grill, and with all of the burners turned completely off, open the valve on the propane bottle. Listen for leaks.
    • Spray your soapy solution around all connection points – where the gas line connects to the propane tank, where the line connects to the burner valves, around the valves themselves, and anywhere else gas could escape. A small stream of bubbles at any of these locations indicates a potentially dangerous propane leak.

Fire Safety Tip #3: Grill Safety

While grilling, observe the following safety guidelines:

  • Never leave a hot grill unattended
  • Keep a fire extinguisher or bucket of water handy
  • Only use approved charcoal lighter fluid in a charcoal grill, and never use it to relight a fire that’s gone out. Never use any flammable liquid in a gas grill.
  • Use long-handled cooking utensils to keep your hands away from the heat.

Fire Safety Tip #4: After the Food Is Cooked

Once you’re done cooking, it’s crucial to extinguish and cool down the grill safely.

  • If you’re using a gas grill, turn off the burners and tank valve and let the grill cool completely before storing it.
  • For a charcoal grill, close the grill’s vents and allow the coals to burn themselves out. Let them cool completely before disposing of them in a metal container with a tight-fitting lid.

Bonfire and Fire Pit Safety

Humans are drawn to a campfire. We love to sit around a fire to tell stories, share quality time with family and friends, and enjoy treats like s’mores and toasted marshmallows. When it’s time to light up the evening’s festivities, make sure to observe these safety tips.

Fire Safety Tip #5: Burn in a Safe Location

Generally speaking, you need to be even more cautious when choosing a location for your fire pit or bonfire than for a barbecue grill. Avoid any potential flammables and keep well clear (at least 10 feet, but 20 feet is even better) of any structures, trees, shrubbery, or underbrush.

Fire Safety Tip #6: Inspect Your Burning Container/Burning Site

If you’re building a fire in a fire pit, chiminea, or other outdoor fire feature, make sure it’s in good shape. Cracks, rust, or other damage may indicate a potential failure that would prevent the pit from adequately containing the fire.

If you’re building a bonfire directly on the ground, make sure to remove all vegetation from the site where you plan to burn. Ideally, dig a shallow pit at least a few feet wider than the intended size of your fire. Even better, surround that pit with bricks, stones, or other nonflammable objects to make a barrier.

Fire Safety Tip #7: Only Burn Clean Fuel

You should only burn dried, seasoned hardwood in your outdoor fire pit or bonfire. Well-seasoned wood will make for a cleaner, less smoky fire that generates less soot and emits fewer harmful gases.

Burning unseasoned wood, many evergreen woods, and other materials will create a cooler fire that emits considerably more soot, along with foul smells, dangerous byproducts like creosote, and a wide range of carcinogens.

Fire Safety Tip #8: Never Use Flammable Liquids

You should never use gasoline, kerosene, diesel, heating oil, or any other flammable liquid to start a fire pit or bonfire. Instead, build up your fire by starting with small pieces of tinder, slowly adding larger pieces of kindling, and then adding full-sized firewood only when you have a well-established small fire that’s hot enough to ignite your firewood.

If you have access to fatwood (also called fat lighter, lighter wood, heart pine, or fat stick), it makes an excellent tinder and kindling when used in small amounts.

Fire Safety Tip #9: Burn Safely

Always keep a fire extinguisher, water hose, or bucket of water handy to put out any small sparks that escape your fire.

Let the fire die down at the end of the evening. Once there are no longer any visible flames, you can pour water on the fire or shovel dirt onto it and stir until the fire is completely out.

Fireworks Safety Tips

There are different safety guidelines for summertime fireworks. Read our previous article, “Don’t Let Your Holiday Fireworks Lead to Fire Damage,” for tips on staying safe on July 4th or any other celebration involving fireworks.

Has a Summer Celebration Led to Fire Damage to Your Home or Business? Contact the Certified Fire Damage Restoration Team at AfterCare Restoration: 215.515.1000

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