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Tips to prevent fires when using the grill

Monday - 5/28/2012, 7:16am  ET

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Among safety tips when using a grill this Memorial Day weekend: Use long-handled tools to keep your hands at a safe distance from the heat and flames while grilling. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON - As thousands fire up the grill this weekend, don't let one dangerous slip-up ruin the unofficial start to the summer.

Grills sparked an average of 8,200 house fires in the U.S. Every year between 2005 and 2009, the National Fire Protection Association says. Those fires resulted in an average of 15 deaths, 120 injuries, and $75 million in property damage.

Almost a third of grill fires started on a terrace or patio, according to NFPA, 28 percent started on a balcony or open porch and 6 percent started in the kitchen.

The Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue put together a list of helpful tips about using grills and smokers to keep residents safe. They also outlined the county regulations on grilling:

  • County code Section 9.1-45 prohibits the use and storage of any device that uses flammable substances on a balcony. Flammable substances include things like gasoline, charcoal lighter, liquefied petroleum gas and propane.
  • Use grills or smokers within 15 feet of any apartment, condominium or other building or structure.
  • Stay with your grill and smoker while using it.

We have compiled a list of safety tips on grilling, courtesy Prince William County Fire and Rescue and NFPA:

  • Use long-handled tools to keep your hands at a safe distance from the heat and flames while grilling.
  • To keep built-up grease or fat from catching fire from the heat of the grill, periodically check and empty the trays below the grill.
  • Keep others away from the grill by setting up a three foot safety zone around the grill or smoker while it is in use and during the cool down period. Keep children and pets away from the grill.
  • Dispose of hot ashes in metal containers only.
  • If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.
  • Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.

The NFPA recommends checking the gas tank hose on propane grills for leaks before using it for the first time each year. Follow these steps:

  • Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles.
  • If your grill has a gas leak, by smell or the soapy bubble test, and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill.
  • If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again.
  • If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.
  • If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department.
  • Do not move the grill.

WTOP's Kathy Stewart and Meera Pal contributed to this report. Follow WTOP on Twitter.

(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)