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MONDAY, JUNE 27, 2005
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Grilling pork, not porches
Leaky valves, improper coal disposal can trigger disaster

By Jenny Thompson
DAILY Staff Writer

jthompson@decaturdaily.com 340-2447

A couple of years ago, Tom Collins of Decatur decided to grill out, so he turned on the gas, ignited the burner and went inside to let it heat.

Before igniting a gas grill for summertime cooking, make sure there are no leaky valves and that hoses are clear and in good condition. Ken Thompson makes these safety checks before each grilling session.
Before igniting a gas grill for summertime cooking, make sure there are no leaky valves and that hoses are clear and in good condition. Ken Thompson makes these safety checks before each grilling session.
Minutes later a small pinhole leak in his gas line caused a small but loud explosion.

"It happened right by the window where my kids were sitting," Collins said.

Collins called the fire department because of all the smoke, but luckily he only had some smoke damage on his back patio and had to replace the faulty hoses.

He said he now has yearly maintenance done on grill valves and hoses to prevent another leak.

According to the Hearth, Patio & Barbecue Association, 80 percent of American families own a grill and 70 percent of them will cook out on July 4, making it the most popular day of the year to barbecue.

"Americans love the thrill of the grill," John Drengenberg, manager of Consumer Affair for Underwriters Laboratories Inc., the not-for-profit product safety testing organization, said. "We barbecue about 3 billion times a year, but too often we light up more than the grill."

The National Fire Protection Association said gas-fueled grills caused an estimated 600 home structure fires and 3,200 outdoor fires in 2001. Charcoal and other solid-fueled grills caused an estimated 400 home structure fires and 200 outdoor fires during 2001.

Decatur Fire Marshal Darwin Clark said he has seen few grill-related fire incidents in the past few years.

He said the most common calls he gets about grills are ones about malfunctioning or leaking gas valves and fires started from improper disposal of hot coals.

"If you think you've got a really bad leak," Clark said, "The best thing to do is not mess with it and let us deal with it."

Clark said a couple of weeks ago a resident threw hot coals into a garbage can, which caught fire and then caught the house on fire. He said he has had similar calls about outdoor fires caused by throwing hot coals onto a compost heap.

"In my 25 years of doing this, I've seen people do silly things — like people grilling in their garage," Clark said.

Brett Eaton, garden associate at The Home Depot, said gas grills pose a greater risk of fire than charcoal grills because gas can explode. "But both are safe if you use them properly."

Lucas Day, seasonal sales associate at Lowes Home Improvement, said even though charcoal will not explode, it can cause a fire if hot coals are not properly disposed.

"There's really no difference between the two as far as safety goes," Day said.

Suggestions for grilling safely

These grill safety tips come from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the Propane Education & Research Council and Underwriters Laboratories Inc.:

General safety

  • Never use the grill inside. Use the grill at least 10 feet away from any structure that can catch fire.

  • Never leave the grill unattended.

  • While the grill is hot, keep all children and pets away from it until it cools.

  • Have easy access to a fire extinguisher.

  • Use longer utensils instead of tableware to keep yourself at a safe distance from the flames.

  • Do not wear loose clothing while cooking.

  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions and contact the manufacturer or look up the Website if a manual is missing.

  • If a fire erupts from a tank or endangers personal safety or property, call 911.

    Charcoal grills

  • Never use gasoline or kerosene to light charcoal fires—use only lighter fluid.

  • Do not restart a flame by adding additional starter fluid on hot coals, as this may cause a flare up.

  • Coals can reach temperatures of 1,000 degrees, so dispose of them away from children and pets and cool them with water.

  • Never use charcoal inside because it produces carbon monoxide gas when it burns. CO fumes from grills kill an estimated 30 people a year and injure about 100 when people grill inside.

    Brett Eaton of The Home Depot also suggested that people place their grills on level, sturdy surfaces. "That way it won't fall over and send burning charcoal everywhere."

    Gas grills

  • Never pour lighter fluid or any other accelerants on a gas grill.

  • Check hoses from the gas supply for cracking, brittleness, holes and leaks.

  • Make sure the hose and tubing have no kinks in them.

  • Inspect tubes leading to the burner for any blockages from yard debris, bugs or grease. Use a pipe or wire cleaner to clear the blockage.

  • Keep the grill top open when igniting because fumes can build up in a closed grill and cause an explosion.

  • Never use a match or lighter to check for leaks.

  • Do not light a grill until a leak has been fixed.

  • Immediately turn off the gas in the case of a leak.

  • Move gas hoses or install a heat shield to protect them from hot surfaces and dripping grease.

  • Always replace scratched or nicked connectors, which could possibly leak gas.

  • Keep lighted cigarettes, matches and other open flames away from a leaking grill.

  • While refilling the cylinder have the supplier check for dents, damage, rust or leaks.

  • Buy grills that have the following safety features: a device to limit the flow of gas in the event of a hose rupture; a mechanism to automatically shut-off the grill; and a feature to prevent the flow of gas if the connection between the tank and the grill is not leak-proof.

  • Always see a gas dealer or a qualified appliance repair person to fix a leak instead of trying to fix it yourself.

    Lucas Day of Lowes Home Improvement also warned grillers not to replace propane tanks with natural gas ones or vice versa.

    "If you hook up propane to a natural gas one, you'll have flames shooting up over your head," Day said.

    Propane dangers

  • Keep containers in an upright position.

  • Never store a spare gas container under or near a grill or indoors.

  • Transport gas containers in a secure and upright position.

  • Do not keep gas in a hot car or trunk, as the heat will cause the pressure to increase—possibly opening the relief valve and allowing gas to escape.

    "One of the most important things you can do is have a spray bottle handy to control flare-ups and have a fire extinguisher close by just in case things get out of hand," said John Drengenberg of Underwriters Laboratories. "Remember to use the extinguisher based on the PASS method: Pull pin, aim at base of fire, squeeze handle, and sweep from side to side."

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