While grilling and outdoor cooking are among the great pleasures of summer, they also pose fire dangers.
The months of May, June, July and August are the most active for grill-related fires, with July topping the list, according to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA.
Grilling-related fires in Texas
“Each summer, we see an increase in the number of grilling and outdoor cooking fires across the state,” said Weldon Dent, wildland urban interface specialist with the Texas A&M Forest Service.
Dent said while most are quickly extinguished by local fire departments, the Lone Star State has had some significant fires that can directly be attributed to grilling or outdoor cooking.
“The Dyer Mill Fire in Grimes County in June 2011 burned 5,280 acres and destroyed 30 homes, and the Double Diamond Fire in Hutchinson County in May 2014 burned 2,202 acres and destroyed 228 homes and 143 outbuildings,” he said. “Both of these fires were attributed as a result of someone grilling or cooking outdoors.”
Dent said one of the biggest hazards from grilling fires is that they often occur in communities, near homes or in recreation areas. But he also noted that because grilling and outdoor cooking fires are caused by humans, they should also be almost entirely preventable.
Looks like it’s gonna be a hot, dry one
State officials have already been tracking an increased number of wildfire ignitions across Texas this summer, and wildfire analysts with Texas A&M Forest Service say the state could experience a severe summer wildfire season.
Brad Smith, Texas A&M Forest Service Predictive Services department head, said the current dryness in portions of the state are similar to what they would normally expect in mid-to-late July.
“The drought that will carry over from the spring into the summer and the emerging drought from early summer has initiated an early start to the summer fire season,” he said.
Smith also noted this early summer drying could also indicate the possibility of a severe late-summer fire season.
Safety tips for gas, charcoal grilling
Taking a few precautions when cooking or grilling outdoors can prevent unwanted fires. Here is a list of fire safety tips for grilling/cooking outdoors compiled from the Texas A&M Forest Service and the NFPA:
- During periods of high fire danger, consider alternatives to outdoor cooking.
- Check for burn bans prior to grilling/cooking outdoors.
- Propane and charcoal barbecue grills should only be used outdoors.
- Place the grill away from your home, deck, eves and overhead branches.
- Never leave any fire unattended, including fires in barbecue pits.
- Remove any buildup of fats or grease from grills.
- Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from the grill area.
- Have a water source nearby when cooking/grilling.
- Have a water hose connected to a faucet, uncoiled and ready to turn on at a moment’s notice.
- Have a bucket of water near the grill.
- If no water is available, have a shovel ready to smother any escaped embers with sand/dirt.
- Check for leaks on gas grills prior to use.
- Make sure the gas grill lid is open before lighting it.
- If the flame goes out, turn the grill and gas off and wait at least 5 minutes before re-lighting.
- If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.
- Consider using a charcoal chimney starter that allows firing up charcoal without the use of starter fluid. There are also electric charcoal starters, which do not use fire.
- If using starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to an ongoing fire.
- Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.
- Let coals cool completely and dispose of them in a metal container.
Dent said spent charcoal coals should be disposed of in the same way as the remnants of a campfire.
“Drown the coals with water and stir the ashes to soak all of the coals thoroughly,” he said. “Then check for any remaining heat with the back of your hand. Don’t physically touch the ashes. If you sense any heat, soak and stir the ashes again until no heat is present.”
He said if no water source is available, completely cover the coals with a couple of inches of sand or dirt.
Dent said further information on wildfire protection can be found on the Facebook page “Wildfire Education and Prevention – Texas A&M Forest Service.”
Benefits of a charcoal chimney
Davey Griffin, AgriLife Extension meat specialist in Texas A&M’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, College Station, said to lessen the possibility of an unwanted fire he prefers using a charcoal chimney starter instead of applying commercial lighter fluid.
“Using a charcoal chimney helps reduce any residual unwanted flavor you may get from lighter fluid and also reduces the chance of a fire caused by the overapplication of fluid,” Griffin said. “A charcoal chimney starter is a metal tube into which briquettes are inserted. A grate at the bottom keeps the coals from falling through and handles on either side of the chimney allow you to pick it up once the briquettes have become hot.”
Briquettes are heated by means of lighter cubes or other pre-made combustibles — even newspaper — placed at the bottom of the chimney starter and ignited. No lighter fluid is required.
“Just taking a little extra care and using a fair share of common sense will usually be enough to help keep you from inadvertently starting an unwanted fire when grilling or cooking outdoors,” Griffin said.