The grill has become a popular fixture at laid-back barbecues and neighborhood gatherings across the country. It’s already a custom here in the US. Grills, of course, still require regular maintenance even though it’s a convenient way to cook. It’s essential to be very careful with grills since nearly 9,000 fires a year, on average, involve grilling.
Science and Safety with Gas Grills
Five out of six of these reported fire incidents involve gas-fueled grills. So, what causes a grill to start a fire? We’ll discuss the three of the leading causes and let’s explore the science behind gas grill fires.
1. Failing to clean the grill as well as the grease trap
As you cook hamburger patties in the grill, the grease drops and collects in the trap. As this process takes place, a secondary fuel source is slowly accumulating. It doesn’t take too long and too many barbecues for that grease trap to fill and create a dangerous situation for you. Aside from the grease problem, spiders and other insects can build nests in the burner tubes. This can block gas flow which can result in what we call “flashback fire” which can cause flames to come out around the control panel.
So, what causes grease fires?
The temperature within the grill can reach very high temperatures to more than 500°F in just a minute or two when the grill cover is closed and the burners are on. If there is residual grease, it can ignite and can release a terrible amount of energy that can quickly spread to nearby items or even your home depending on where the grill is located in your house. This is not the only way residual grease can start fires. Flare-ups from grilling fatty foods or meats that have been marinated in oil which is an expected part of the grilling experience can also ignite residual grease if they are accumulated.
What causes flashback fires?
Small insects such as spiders and others may build nests in the burner tubes. These burner tubes that lead from the valve to the burner can block the flow of gas to the burner. The obstructions can cause some of the gas to back up and flow out of the air shutter located near the control knob while there may be enough gas going through to the burners to allow them to light. These gases that are escaping from the grill can start a fire and cause injuries.
Just what can you do if these things happen?
We highly suggest cleaning your grill and paying attention to areas where grease can accumulate. These areas include around and under the burners and also the grease cup which is usually located under the grill. Other areas in which grease can accumulate are on the flame tamers. Examples are the flat pieces of steel that are commonly located on top of the burners to evenly distribute heat throughout the grill. You can also avoid these accidents by trimming meat or using a lower heat setting instead when grilling barbecue. In order to prevent flashbacks, you should also always inspect the burner tubes and clean them with an appropriate bottle brush. We also suggest checking the flames on your burners between cleanings. If you find them uneven across the burner or yellow in color, this may show some blockage.
2. Placing the Grill Close to Something That Could Easily Catch Fire
It might sound like a good idea to set up the grill on the porch or under a shade to keep yourselves and also the food dry on a certain rainy day. However, the heat coming from the gas grill can start a fire with other materials nearby. This can cause property damage including melted siding and could engulf the house and other nearby structures.
Just what causes the fire?
If you are barbecue grilling near an exterior siding, shrubs, and other nearby fire-prone materials, you could then start a serious fire. Heat and flames from your barbecue grill can radiate further than you may expect. Flare-ups and grease fires will cause substantial heat and with the combined wind, the flames can reach three or more feet away from your grill.
Just what you can do to avoid this situation?
We suggest learning to always grill in a well-ventilated area and at a safe distance from structures including wooden railings and other fire-prone materials such as shrubbery. It is also essential to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when trying to decide where to place your grill. Always be sure to put your grill on a flat, stable, and non-combustible surface. We do not suggest grilling under patio overhangs, in enclosed porches, on combustible decking, or near overhanging branches. Stay away from accumulated leaves and other items from the grill area.
3. Leaving the Grill Unattended
It is very unwise to leave your grill unattended even if your grill is located far away from your home or other fire-prone objects. Your children and pets may be injured if they come into contact with a very hot grill. Also, flare-ups or grease fires can threaten gas lines or even the propane tank. You won’t be able to react quickly to changing conditions if you leave your grill even for just a minute.
Just what can you do?
We suggest remaining at the grill at all times when it’s turned on and take certain precautionary measures to lessen risks of fire by following the manufacturer’s instructions for inspections and maintenance. Also, keep your grill clean from grease buildup and protect against flare-ups.
Here are some grilling fire facts that you should be aware of:
- July every year is the peak month for grill fires. This is about 18% including both structures, outdoor or unclassified fires. This is also followed by June at 15%, May at 13%, and August at 12%.
- An average of 19,700 patients per year dropped by the emergency rooms due to injuries involving grills between 2014 and 2018. Almost half of this (about 9,500 cases or 48%) were thermal burns including burns from fire and from direct contact with hot objects. Around 5,200 thermal burns per year were caused by such contact or other non-fire events.
- Children under the age of five accounted for an average of 2,000 or 39% of the contact-type burns per year. These burns usually occurred when someone, usually a child, bumped into, touched, or fell on the grill, grill part, or hot coals.
- Gas grill fires occurred in about 8,900 homes per year including 3,900 structure fires and 4,900 outdoor fires yearly. Leaks or breaks were the main cause of gas grills. 10% of gas grill structure fires and 22% of outside gas grill fires were due to leaks or breaks.
- Charcoal or other solid-fueled grills have caused 1,300 home fires per year as well as 600 structure fires and 600 outside fires yearly.
9 Grilling Safety Tips for Summer Barbecues
Grilling is a well-known way to enjoy the summer season in the United States. Every year in the country, there are about 10,200 home fires that are caused by outdoor grills. According to the National Fire Protection Association or NFPA, the peak month for grill fires is in July. This is followed closely by May, June, and August. Fires that started in grills can spread fast when the gas or charcoal grill is placed too close to any fire hazards. We greatly suggest learning how you can help keep your home and family safe by following these grill safety tips.
1. Only use grills outside
Propane and gas, charcoal grills are strictly designed for outdoor use where there is enough ventilation even though it may be tempting to set up your barbecue grill inside of your open garage or under a covered balcony. Any fire-prone materials that surround the grill when it’s in use can easily start a fire and can spread quickly. We suggest making sure that the top and around your place to grill is clear and unobstructed.
2. Place your grill away from your home and any other structures
Barbecue grills when not in use are often placed just outside the back door or on the back deck against a railing. We do not suggest placing your grills in such areas since it can pose a potential fire hazard. Grills that are placed too close to your house or other wood structures such as furniture can heat up adjacent materials and can start a fire. Always make sure that your grill is at least 10 feet from your home or other structures.
3. Ensure that your grill is placed on a flat, level surface
Grills that are placed on uneven surfaces or slopes can easily tip over and start a fire. Always make sure that your grill is set up on an equal and stable surface such as a concrete pad so that it remains level while you’re cooking food.
4. Check your grill for leaks
It is essential to check your grill thoroughly when the grilling season begins if you store your grill inside during the winter months. A gas leak can happen when propane or natural gas build-up inside the barbecue when the lid is closed. We suggest checking the gas lines to ensure that they would not leak before using your grill and always open the lid of your barbecue before lighting.
5. Always clean your grill after use
Grease can build-up on the grill plates and collect inside the grease tray if you use the grill regularly. The build-up can then act as fuel and start a fire when the grill is in use if not cleaned. Also, make sure to clean your grill, whether charcoal or gas, after each use. A grill brush can really help with the fallen or caked-up food bits. Always empty the grease tray as it starts to fill up.
6. Never leave your barbecue grill with no person in charge while you’re cooking
Don’t ever leave your grill unattended while you are cooking your food. You should never walk away from your barbecue when you use it. Barbecues use high heat and open flames to cook your food. If you leave it unattended, it can become a safety and fire hazard. We suggest asking another adult to watch the grill for you if you must leave for a second.
7. Wear appropriate clothing
Articles of clothing that have long sleeves or pieces that dangle can easily catch fire when they are too close to an open flame. So, we suggest wearing clothing that won’t interfere with the cooking process and make sure that your apron strings are tied back away from your front. If any piece of your clothing catches fire, stay calm, immediately stop, drop and roll to extinguish the flames fast.
8. Keep a spray bottle on hand
It’s usual for grills to flare up as fat drips from the meat as it cooks and this can cause a section of the grill to remain on fire as it burns away. The flames will continue to burn and cause excess smoke to billow out from under the lid if left unattended. Make sure that you have a spray bottle filled with water just beside your grill so you can act fast to extinguish smaller flames before they spread.
9. Always have a fire extinguisher nearby the grill
In case a fire indeed breaks out, follow these tips on how to put out a grill fire and ensure that you have a fire extinguisher close by. It is very simple to use. You just have to point and spray to extinguish the fire. This is also quick and easy to clean up after use.
Following these charcoal and gas grill safety tips and having the right kind of protection will help you and your family enjoy a very safe grilling season all summer season.
Some more tips to make your summer enjoyable and safe:
Properly maintain and store your grill
Grills are usually safe if they are properly designed and built, properly maintained and cleaned, and also regularly checked for possible leaks. We have some more tips for you to follow when setting up at the start of each summer season when grilling is most popular:
- Search the Consumer Product Safety Commission website to ensure there has not been a recall on your model grill.
- Check cracks, holes, and brittleness in the grill hoses.
- Check for blockages especially in the tube that connects the grill burners to the gas valve, often called Venturi tube. These can be caused by food, drippings and insects such as spiders or insects. Clear any blocked areas with a wire or pipe cleaner.
- Check for leaks. Run a solution of soapy water along the hoses and on connections. Open the valve at your tank and check to ensure that gas isn’t escaping which will be indicated by bubbles at the leaking points.
- Keep hoses away from hot areas or where grease might drip on them.
- Cover your grill when it is already cooled down and not in use to help protect its parts from harsh weather, falling leaves, and insect activity.
- Store the propane tanks outside and far from your house. Make sure valves are firmly turned off as well.
Practice safe barbeque habits
When barbecuing, it is greatly suggested to use common sense:
- Use your grill on a flat surface, far from your house, garage and landscaping.
- Place a fire extinguisher nearby and let everyone else know where it is stored and how to operate it.
- Don’t move the grill once it is already lit.
- Don’t let your children and pets be near the grill.
- Protect yourself or whoever is doing the grilling by using a heavy apron and oven mitts that reach high on the forearm.
- Use very long-handled utensils designed for barbecuing.
- Use lighter fluid that is only designed for grilling when charcoal grilling.
- Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids and never add lighter fluid once the fire has started.
- Never grill indoors or in enclosed areas.
- Charcoal grills produce carbon monoxide fumes which can be fatal in unventilated areas. Let the grill cool off first before you store or cover it. Keep in mind that the grill will still be hot for a while even after use.
- Soak charcoal briquettes in water to make sure they are cool and inactive before throwing them away.
Be alert in case of an accident
Of course, we still cannot avoid accidents from happening despite all the good efforts to prevent them. Here are some steps to take if the worst case should happen:
- In case there is fire, get your trusty fire extinguisher, and if the situation warrants, we suggest calling 911. Fire spreads fast and it’s better to be safe with professional help than being sorry.
- Immediately address injuries. Run cool water over minor burns. However, do not cover injured areas with bandages, butter, or salve. In case you have serious burns in your care, take them immediately to the emergency room or an urgent care facility. We also suggest calling 911 when in doubt.
- Make sure to deal with any injuries and let the smoke from the fire clear up before you try to see the extent of the damages on your property.
If you have more questions in mind, please do not hesitate to call us or send us an email. We will be happy to be of help to you!