Grilling safety a top priority to fire officials as Utah heads into summer season

Jacob Anderson and his wife, Sam Anderson, grill with friends and family at Rock Canyon Park in Provo on July 4, 2020.

Jacob Anderson and his wife, Sam Anderson, grill with friends and family at Rock Canyon Park in Provo on July 4, 2020. (Spenser Heaps, Deseret News)

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SALT LAKE CITY — Heading into the summer with sometimes triple-digit temperature highs, now is more important than ever to practice grilling safety when cooking outside.

"Sixteen percent of all grill fires happen in July historically, and that's followed by a close second of June. So, we are right there in the heat of this danger," said Benjamin Porter, public information officer with the United Fire Authority.

Grill fires by the numbers

Fires started by or related to grilling are not rare across the nation. Data from the National Fire Protection Agency shows July is the peak month for grill fires at 16%. June was a close second at 14%, followed by May at 12%.

In roughly 20% of the fires, the grill was not cleaned, data shows. It also showed that gas grills were involved in an average of 9,079 home fires per year.

Additionally, over 25% of grill structure fires started on an exterior balcony or open porch.

This data is based on 2017-2021 annual averages.

Grilling safety tips and warnings

Several steps are needed to prevent grill fires, but the top tip is to clean them regularly.

"The biggest thing we have to stress to people is make sure we keep them clean," said Porter. "People will oftentimes let them get dirtier than they should and get that grease and fat build-up, and that's actually the cause of 20% of grill fires."

Other fire-prevention tips include making sure gas tanks and hoses are in good shape.

When cooking with charcoal, always use approved lighter fluid and cool charcoal completely before throwing it away in a metal container.

Keep grills off grass and away from vegetation and leave plenty of space between the grill and sides of the home. Additionally, never leave the grill unattended.

"(Leaving grills unattended is) something that a lot of us get comfortable with … But when that grill is left unattended, that's a good opportunity for it to flare up and catch other things on fire," said Porter.

These rules are especially important for apartment complexes that allow grills on outdoor balconies.

In case of a fire

If a grill fire begins, there are three steps Unified Fire Authority says you should do first. First, shut off the propane if possible. Second, close the lid of the grill. Then call 911.

They also suggest keeping a fire extinguisher in a well-known and easily accessible area of the home because putting water on a grease fire can make the flames worse.

"If a barbeque catches fire and has a big fire coming out of it, chances are it's going to be grease and fat build-up that's underneath those grates. That dry chemical extinguisher is the best thing we can use to extinguish that," said Porter.

Fire authorities say never hesitate to call 911.

"We have absolutely no qualms getting en route, starting that way, and turning around if it ends up to be nothing. When people try to handle it themselves and let it catch into the house ... that's when it can be really dangerous," he said.

Grill fires are relatively easy to manage when done properly.

"Even if that grill were to start on fire for a little bit, if it's away from stuff on a cement pad with no fuel going to it, they typically go out pretty quick," said Porter. "It's when they're too close to homes or too close to exposures and there is a continual fuel source, that's when the situation goes on."

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