PARKERSBURG -Grilling season usually means family get-togethers and summertime fun, but it can also mean fire dangers.
Every year, nearly 3,800 Americans are injured by charcoal or gas grill fires, and more than half of grill fires occur in May, June, July and August, according to the United States Fire Administration.
Outdoor charcoal and propane grills and fire pits can pose serious fire risks.
"We do see a number of calls in the summertime about outdoor cooking fires. Most of the time, we get calls from neighbors who don't realize someone is cooking outdoors," said Tim Flinn, chief fire inspector with the Parkersburg Fire Department.
"Even though permits are not required for outdoor cooking fires, if a homeowner plans to have a cooking fire that will produce a lot of smoke, it's always a good idea to call the fire department first and let the neighbors know," Flinn said.
Positioning of grills and fire pits can go a long way in preventing fires. Nearly two-thirds of grill fires on residential properties start on patios, terraces, screened-in porches or courtyards, according to USFA.
Grilling Safety Tips
Position grills outside, away from deck railing, brush, siding and play areas.
Use long-handled tools to give the chef a safe clearance from flames and heat.
Do not store propane cylinders in buildings or garages.
Keep propane and charcoal starter fluids away from heat sources and out of reach of children.
Charcoal and propane grills should only be used outdoors, away from siding, brush and play areas. A three-foot safety zone should be kept around the grill, said Flinn, who reminded residents to install and position grills by the manufacturer's instructions.
"We have responded to houses where a hot fire pit was left abandoned near the siding of a house, and it has actually melted the siding off a house or damaged a vehicle," said Flinn.
When using a propane grill, always check the cylinder hose for leaks each year. Turn off the tank and grill if there is a smell of gas, and call the fire department if the leak does not stop, said Flinn.
Pre-made fire pits are gaining popularity among homeowners, sparking new safety concerns for fire departments. Usually made from stone, brick or metal, a fire pit is designed to contain a fire and keep it from spreading.
"You can buy them in a lot of local stores, and they are becoming very popular in back yards," said Flinn. "We recommend anyone with questions or concerns about the positioning of fire pits to call the fire department or code enforcement."
Fire pits and chimeneas should be kept away from flammable and combustible materials, such as gasoline, diesel fuel, kerosene and charcoal lighter fluid. Ideally, fire pits should be placed on concrete, not decks, he said.
To avoid excess smoke, seasoned hardwood is the best option for burning. Trash, leaves, paper, cardboard and plywood should not be burned, and soft woods such as pine and cedar should be avoided because they pop and throw sparks.
"Always have an extinguisher or garden hose nearby," said Flinn.