The fall season in the Carolinas brings cooler temperatures, and time to get back outdoors for tailgating, home cookouts, marshmallow roasts or simply mellowing out by an outdoor fire.
Robin Price, President, Allen Tate Insurance, reminded me that while having fun, we should be careful. In the U.S., 7,000 Americans are injured every year while using a grill (ABC news). And since, according to the American Society of Landscape Architects, fire pits, or outdoor fireplaces, are the No. 1 requested design feature today, a quick review of safety precautions would probably be a good thing. So we chatted last week, before I could run outside eagerly with my fire starter lighter.
“First,” Robin says, “Read the safety instructions that came with your grill or outdoor fire pit. It’s not the most exciting thing, but you’ll be glad you did when you enjoy NOT having the excitement of an out of control flame.”
Robin gives us six other things to pay attention to when dealing with outdoor flames and fire:
Maintenance: “Make sure your grill and fire grate is clean,” she urges, and clear away any excess grease or food particles to prevent flame flare-ups that can quickly escalate. If you have a gas grill or fire pit, check the gas line regularly to make sure there are no leaks.”
Most grill and fire pit manufacturers recommend a thorough maintenance check at least once a year. The fall season is a good time to clean and inspect all components, since you will be using them before the cold weather sets in.
Location: Robin recommends keeping your grill, fire pit or portable fireplace a minimum of 10 feet away from any structure or flammable household items (cleaners, fertilizer, wood piles, etc.).
“And take a look up before you light that flame,” she reminds (as I put my lighter back in the drawer). “Don’t position your grill and never build a fire under a house or building overhang that could lead to damage if a flare-up or rogue flame occurs. Avoid placing your fire pit near hanging branches or on an unsteady surface, which could lead to some heart-pounding moments sure to spoil an evening of fun.”
“If you have a fire pit, go ahead and use that screen for protection from wind and to prevent sparks from flying out,” Robin advises. “Also, avoid using a fire pit when it is very windy. While it’s natural to focus on getting that fire going, take a moment to take a look around first.”
Ventilation: “Never use a grill or an outdoor portable fireplace indoors,” Robin emphasizes. Why? Because your home or any building can trap carbon monoxide a silent, odorless killer that can build up from grill exhaust or an unvented open fire.
“We can’t emphasize it too much,” Robin continued. “Your grill must be used outside in an open space to vent properly, as should your outdoor fire place.”
Ignition: If your grill is powered by natural gas, be sure to light it with the lid open to avoid gas build-up. A build-up of gas can create a fireball and explode, possibly causing injury to yourself and property. Make sure any natural gas burning fireplace or pit is ignited only with the cover off.
Monitor: We think it goes without saying—never leave your grill or fire unattended. “Unfortunately,” Robin tells me, “ We all start having fun, and may wander over to the next tailgate party or a neighbor’s backyard to extend the party. In those few minutes, things can happen, because fire starts quickly and spreads faster than you would think. Things could be up in flames before you know it.”
So it’s best to stay where you are. Anyway, you can have a big time standing around your own grill or fire, enjoying the company of friends and family and just being in the moment. And, it’s the best way to stay safe.
Extinguish: “Keep a spray bottle of water on hand while grilling. A quick squirt of water can be used to quell minor flare-ups without extinguishing the flame, so even master grillers can spray when needed without fear of ruining their browned to perfection masterpieces. Just remember to have that bottle on hand when tailgating, as well.
And while it’s great to enjoy a roaring outdoor fire on a cool fall evening, keep a large bucket of water nearby, just in case.
“And don’t forget the important part of putting the fire out when the party is over,” Robin says. “If you are tailgating, don’t leave it to the wind to extinguish your grill while you go on to the game,” Robin advises. “Either grill early and make sure the coals are cold before you leave, or place in a specially designated bins where you can put hot coals. Don’t risk setting your tent, or worse, your vehicle on fire.”
“It’s good to go ahead and have a fire extinguisher in reach, especially while tailgating, Robin reminds us, “and know how to use it. This could save you from a lot of damage if things somehow get out of hand.”
With your fire pit, make sure to extinguish the fire completely once you have finished using it. Following manufacturer’s instructions, use a fire extinguisher or enough water to soak the hot ashes or wood through. Continue to pour water over the fire until there’s no steam. Cover with a lid, if you have one, after you have put out the fire.
Robin adds, “Once the fire is out, you still need to exercise care. Don’t stack and store charred wood right out of the pit; instead, use a metal bin and ash bucket. And don’t forget to use safety gloves anytime when handling a hot fire pit.”
“We also need to remind everyone to keep a close eye on children and pets at all times when there is a fire or hot grill. Kids love fires, so help them roast their marshmallow or hotdog safely while still having fun,” she continues.
“Remember to keep Fido’s long flowing tail away from open flames, and front paws off the grill when those steaks smell really tempting,” Robin concluded. “Fall is such a fun time. Let’s keep it that way.”
Yes, I’ve experienced a few times when I KNEW I had put six hot dogs on the grill, only to find five when I turned back around. I was just glad no furry friends got hurt. It does go to show, though, things can and do happen in a split second. You can’t be too careful when it comes to grills and fire pits, especially if a healthy respect for them keeps the good times good, and everyone safe.