The spiedies are on the skewers. You step outside onto your beautiful wooden deck where your propane grill is waiting to be fired up for the perfect summer barbecue.
You open the valve on the propane tank. Click on the igniter and nothing.
Click. Click. Click.
The grill lights with a mini-explosion that makes you jump back. You check to see if your eyebrows are still there, that your hair isn’t on fire. It ‘s not. Within a few minutes you ‘ve forgotten all about it as the spiedies sizzle.
You got lucky.
Nearly 60 percent of residential fires starting from grills occur from May through August. Those fires include charcoal grills as well, but the more popularly used propane grills carry a special danger of explosion if the tank gets too hot or if there is gas buildup in and around the grill.
“The biggest contributor is the placement of the grill on a wooden deck, ” said Kristin Card-Griffin, deputy director for administration for Chemung County Fire and Emergency Management. If there ‘s a fire, it ‘s not going to stop at the grill. “It ‘s gonna set your deck on fire. It ‘s gonna set your house on fire. ”
With so many using propane grills — usually without incident — it ‘s easy to forget that propane can be dangerous, even deadly, if basic safety precautions aren’t followed. Safety precautions people routinely flout by keeping their grills too close to their homes and failing to properly maintain them.
And if that fire engulfs the propane tank itself? “When it explodes, it will rocket, ” Card-Griffin said.
Fire departments in the U.S. were dispatched to an average of 8,600 fires a year involving grills, hibachis or barbecues between 2006 and 2010, according to the Firemen ‘s Association of the State of New York.
Fortunately, such catastrophic fires are easy to avoid. “Most fire safety things are just common sense, ” said Daniel Eggleston, the fire marshal for the City of Binghamton.
You may love hopping outside your door onto your deck or terrace to grill, but it ‘s a recipe for disaster. Grills should be used at least 10 feet from your house and “propane grills shouldn’t be used on any combustible surface ” like wooden decks, Eggleston said.
“A concrete pad is very helpful, ” said Brian Wilbur, assistant director for dispatch operations for Tompkins County Department of Emergency Response. “It gives the grill a very stable foundation.”
Never use a propane grill indoors – and don ‘t store tanks there either. That includes garages, (even with the door open) and screened in porches – which can be tempting spots to grill in inclement weather. Resist the temptation, local fire officials warn. It can lead to anything from carbon monoxide poisoning to explosions and fires.
Once you have your grill in a nice, safe spot, check the hose and connection for leaks and blockages, particularly if you haven ‘t used the grill in a while. Oh, and check for bees.
“Bees will get inside of grills and build nests inside, ” Card-Griffin said. The danger is that they will block the flow of propane, leading to a combustible situation. An even more common source of blockage is built-up grease from previous cookouts, so make sure you clean your grill regularly.
Because propane is heavier than air, leaks carry a special danger because the gas settles down and doesn’t disperse as quickly away from areas that can catch fire. The most obvious sign of a leak is the smell of propane gas, but you can also check your connections by spraying them with soapy water after opening the propane valve. If any of them bubble, you have a leak and need to either tighten the connection or replace the faulty part.
“The biggest potential for a leak is where someone is changing the tank, ” Wilbur said.
When you ‘re ready to fire up the grill, always open the lid before pushing the ignition to keep the gas and heat from being blocked into a potentially explosive mix. “The most practical tip is to make sure you don ‘t have the lid down, ” Eggleston said. That ‘s in all the instruction manuals that come with the grills “but guys in general seem not to want to read instructions, ” he added.
Now, you ‘re ready to safely start the grill. You push the igniter button to light it up and nothing happens.
“A lot of those igniters don ‘t last too long on a grill, ” Card-Griffin said. Your instinct – and eagerness to get grilling –may make you decide the best thing to do is to keep pushing that button until it ignites. But don’t. The longer it takes to ignite the longer propane is building up in the grill so if it finally does ignite you might have an explosion on your hands rather than a tame heat.
“If the grill doesn’t ignite within a few seconds ” turn off the propane valve and let the gas disperse for several minutes before trying again, Wilbur cautioned. Otherwise, “it all ignites in a hurry and you could get burned. ”
Even under the best conditions, grilling means you’re playing with fire, so keep a fire extinguisher handy and make sure children and pets are not allowed anywhere near the grill while you are cooking. Never leave the grill unattended — if nothing else, you don ‘t know when a stiff wind might create big flames.
If you have a grease fire, pouring water on it will make it worse. Using a fire extinguisher “will wreck the food, but better that than” a raging fire, Wilbur warned.
If you do end up with a fire that ‘s threatening more than your meal, don ‘t hesitate to call the fire department, the fire officials advised. If you can safely turn off the propane valve, do it, but if you have any doubt at all, “Get back and call the fire department, ” said Card-Griffin.
Used correctly, propane grills are safe. Eggleston himself is a fan and just got a new grill for Father’s Day.
“I use mine all year round, ” he said. “Less dishes to clean. “