Outdoor grilling and evenings around the fire pit will be popular activities in the weeks to come as individuals seek a bit of normalcy and a break from the monotony of staying home to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Fort Lee Fire and Emergency Services encourages all Team Lee members to practice common sense risk mitigation measures and to be cognizant of installation regulations concerning fire safety.
On average, families will have the grill fired up at least three times a week from now until the fall. Many prefer the natural aroma and tradition of a charcoal grill while others opt for the simplicity and ease of gas grills. Regardless of preference, it is important to take steps to ensure a backyard barbecue experiences remain safe and enjoyable all season long.
One leading causes of gas grill fires is leaking fumes from the cylinder connection or hose. Placing combustibles too close to the grill and leaving them unattended are two other common mistakes. About half of all home fires begin at the grill and then extend to an exterior balcony or porch. It is important for grills to be used on a non-combustible surface at a safe distance from the home and not under any awnings, roofs or overhangs. Never leave hot grills unattended during startup, cooking and cool down.
What grill users also need to know includes the following:
• Fort Lee supplement to AR 420-1 prohibits the use of grills closer than 15 feet from any facility on the installation. The Hunt Communities Resident Handbook requires grills to be at least 20 feet away from the residence.
• Grill only outside. Do not use a grill in a garage or enclosed space. Asphyxiation and carbon monoxide exposure can result if the area surrounding the grill is not well-vented.
• Keep the grill well away from the siding of the house and other combustibles. Be aware of any overhanging branches.
• Keep the grill away from where others are playing and out of high traffic areas. This will not only reduce the likelihood that someone will come in contact with the grill and suffer burns, but it will also reduce the chances of it being knocked over and starting a fire. Always keep young children away from the grill.
• Use long-handled utensils to reduce the chance of injury during flame-ups caused by dripping oils and grease.
• Clean grease catchers or pans from below the grill. If it gets hot enough, they will ignite.
• Use only the proper charcoal starter fluid. Keep the fluid away from children and away from heat. Never add fluid to a fire that is already lit or smoldering. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquids to start a fire.
• A vapor explosion is a hazard with gas grills. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions when lighting the equipment. Keep the lid open and do not allow unburned propane or natural gas to accumulate in the grill before lighting.
• Prior to using a gas grill, check the cylinder, hose, regulator, valves and connections for leaks or damage by spraying a mild soap and water solution on them. Once the gas is turned on, a leak will produce bubbles.
• If a strong aroma of gas is smelled during the cooking process, get away from the grill and call 911 for the fire department to respond.
• Never move a lit or hot grill.
• Never store a gas cylinder indoors.
• Purchase and use only gas grills listed by an independent testing laboratory such as UL or FM.
Another warm weather ritual many enjoy is hanging out around the fire pit or pitching a tent near the campfire and breaking out the marshmallows and cold drinks. Please note that campfires and other open burning are not allowed on Fort Lee in accordance with the aforementioned AR 420-1 supplement. The Hunt Resident Handbook also prohibits the use of fire pits or rings and portable wood-burning equipment such as chimineas.
Off-post communities and parks may have similar ordinances and typically issue advisories if prolonged dry spells pose too great of a risk for outdoor fires. It’s always a good idea to check local rules and restrictions (burn bans) before building a fire and possibly causing major harm or damage.
The following are additional campfire safety tips:
• Build campfires away from overhanging branches, rotten stumps, shrubs, dry grass and leaves. Keep it at least 25 feet from all structures. Watch for flying embers.
• Clear the immediate area, approximately 10 feet in radius, surrounding the campfire site.
• Keep the fire in a contained unit such as a burn ring, a burn barrel, BBQ unit or hibachi. Do not build a fire directly on the ground as they can spread underground through root systems or decaying material.
• Keep campfires small – 2'x2'x2' in size – to reduce the risk of them getting out of hand.
• Keep plenty of water handy and have a shovel for throwing sand on the fire if it gets out of control.
• Stack extra firewood upwind and away from the fire.
• After lighting the fire, do not discard the match until it is cold. Douse it with water to be sure.
• Never leave a campfire unattended. Even a small breeze could quickly cause the fire to spread.
• When extinguishing the fire, drown it with water. Make sure all embers, coals and sticks are wet. Move rocks, as there may be burning embers underneath. Stir the remains, add more water and stir again.
• Do not bury coals; they can smolder and start to burn again.
• Teach children to respect fire; keep them at least three feet away as little ones often trip.
• Use extra-long marshmallow or hot dog roasting sticks to avoid burns from getting too close to the fire.
Fire and Emergency Services actively promotes fire safety to all who work and live on Fort Lee. For assistance, call the Fire Prevention Office at 804-734-6597.