Let’s keep cookouts safe

With Summer officially upon us, cookout and grilling season has begun.

Although this time of year has been much awaited by many, the time to cookout and celebrate should be done as safe as possible. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that each year 8,900 home fires are caused by grilling. While nearly half of the people who grill do it year-round, July is the peak month for grill fires followed by May, June and August.

In 2009, the NFPA reported that approximately 17,700 people nationwide were treated in emergency rooms for grilling injuries; 22 percent of the patients were children under five. According to the NFPA website, nearly half of all these injuries were from thermal burns, or burns suffered not from the grill flame, but from of contact with the grill. Between 2004-2008, grilling caused 3,200 structural fires and 4,500 outdoor fires nationwide, resulting $70 million in property losses and causing an annual average of 13 deaths.

The NFPA found that gas grills have a much higher risk of causing fire and injury and account for more than 81 percent of all grill fires. However, many of these fires can easily be avoided by following safety precautions. For example, placing combustibles too close to the heat is the leading cause of charcoal grill fires. This can easily be avoided by moving flammable materials further away from the grill.

Here are a few additional precautions that will help assure that your family gathering is safe and enjoyable. Follow these easy pointers to make grilling safer:

1.Keep barbecue grills on a level surface away from the house, garage and, most importantly, children and pets. If grilling on the patio, make sure that all furniture and accessories are far from the grill. For condos or apartments with balconies, it is always safer to move festivities to available lawn space, and never grill inside the home or garage—even if it is raining.

2.For gas grills, always be sure the valves are turned off when not in use. Check the tubes regularly for cracking, brittleness, holes and leaks in the connections. It would be best to store gas cylinders outside and away from the house, if possible.

3.For charcoal grills, only use starter fluids designed for the grill and never use gasoline. Limit the amount of starter fluid used, and to avoid a flash fire, never add more liquid fuel to a lighted grill.

4. When using bamboo or wood skewers, soak them in cool water prior to use so they won't ignite on the grill.

5.Keep a fire extinguisher accessible, and never leave a grill unattended once it has been lit. A bucket of sand or a garden hose should be near if there isn’t an extinguisher.

6.Never allow burned coals to smolder in any container on a wooden deck, and make sure to soak coals before disposing of them.

7.Dispose of cold ashes by wrapping them in heavy-duty aluminum foil and putting them in a non-combustible container.

Above all, remember that every outdoor piece of cooking equipment will remain hot for hours. These precautions should be used for all outdoor cooking devices, including propane turkey fryers and outdoor fire pits. Also, wooden surfaces, such as decks, can present fire hazards so never place cooking devices directly on them.