Barbeque Grills and Fire Safety

A portable barbeque outdoors with the large flames of a flash fire coming out.

There are few things finer than grilling with friends and family on a summer's day. But whenever you're cooking there are inherent dangers, and grilling brings even more necessary cautions to the table. So stay safe while you cook-out.

The Basics

The two most popular grills are propane gas and charcoal. There are different precautions for using these grills, but there are also some things in common.

First of all, all barbeque grills must be used outside, 50 feet away from any structure. They should never be used in a garage. They should not be used on balconies, terraces or patios. Not only is there the risk of a fire, but both types of burning grills emit carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas which can cause death. And of course, never leave a grill unattended and always have a fire extinguisher on hand.

Propane Grills

Did you know that if a propane canister develops a fire, you should just get far away from it and let it burn itself out? If you put the fire out, that is what causes the explosions because a large amount of free propane gas amasses, and the slightest spark or fire will cause the explosion?

If the flame in a propane grill goes out, turn off the valve on the tank. Wait 45 minutes before lighting the grill again. Although you may not detect the odor of unburned gas, gas could be present. Propane gas is heavier than air, so it may be present but you won’t smell it.

Cleaning and Storing the Grill - Grease builds up in the bottom of grills, and should be cleaned out regularly, as it is very flammable. A large percentage of fires and explosions occur the first time a propane grill is used in the beginning of the season. Winter can cause deterioration of hoses, and insects and cocoons can plug propane grill hoses. When not in use, grill hoses should be plugged. One way to do this is to put a plastic bag over the end of the hose and use duct tape or rubber bands to seal it.

Moving and Storing the Tank - To transport propane tanks, they should never be moved in the trunk of a car, as they can roll around and damage the valve or even rupture the tank. The propane canister should be placed behind the front seat, or have someone hold it. The tank should never be left in a car. Heat can build up in the car and cause the relief valve to open and fill the car with gas. Propane tanks should never be stored under the propane grill, and they should never be stored indoors. Leave them outside in a shady area.

In Case of Fire - If a fire starts on the hoses or inside the grill, if possible the valve on the canister should be turned off. If a fire starts and turning off the valve on the tank does not extinguish it, call the fire department. If the tank or hoses are releasing gas and you cannot stop the flow of gas, call the fire department, even if there's no flame. You may think the gas will be released safely and dissipate, but it will more likely collect, and can cause an explosion and fire.

Charcoal Grills

Charcoal grills require most of the same precautions of gas grills, but present some issues unique to charcoal burning. The biggest risks are the lighter fluid used to start charcoal fires, and disposing of used charcoal.

Lighting the Grill - To start out, place the charcoal in a pyramid. Apply charcoal lighter fluid to the pile, and only apply charcoal lighter fluid ONE TIME. Never use gasoline or kerosene to start a charcoal fire. When using charcoal briquettes that are pre-treated and require no lighter fluid, don’t add more pre-treated coals to the fire. If you need to add charcoal to the fire, use regular untreated charcoal.

Dealing with Lighter Fluid - Place the can of lighter fluid in a cool area far away from the grill. The biggest danger of burns is when you add or douse lighter fluid more than once. When the fire is already burning and you add lighter fluid, it may ignite on contact and could cause burns to hands, arms, face and hair. Flame from the coals can travel up the stream of fluid back to the can like a fuse. This happens faster than you can drop the can and it may explode like a bomb. If it doesn’t ignite on contact with the burning coals, and you reach in and light it, there will be a fireball, which may well burn you. If you toss a match in, the fluid will cause a fireball which may cause burns.

Disposing of Ashes - Wait 48 hours to dispose of charcoal ashes, and wrap them in aluminum foil. You can also extinguish the charcoal fire with water.

With these few simple precautions, you will have a safe, enjoyable grilling experience.

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