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Editorial: Avoid outdoor grill fires

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With the arrival of warmer weather, there's a whole lot of outdoor grilling going on.

Although outdoor chefs' focus tends to be on what's cooking, grill fire safety should also be kept in mind.

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From 2003 to 2006, gas-fueled grills were involved in 81 percent of reported home grill fires and in 6,400 home fires in the U.S., including structure and outside fires, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports. Charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in 1,300, or 16 percent, of home grill fires.

In 2007, approximately 9,600 people went to hospital emergency rooms because of thermal burns caused by grills. About one-third of the burns from gas grills happened while lighting the grill. Gasoline or lighter fluid was involved in roughly one-quarter of charcoal or wood grill burns.

Children under age five accounted for around one-quarter of thermal grill burns. Most of these burns occurred when the child bumped or touched the grill.

NFPA offers the following grill safety tips:

--Use propane and charcoal grills in outdoor areas only.

--Make sure the grill is located well away from the home, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

--Keep children and pets away from the grill area; declare a three-foot "kid-free zone" around the grill.

--Use long-handled grilling tools to give plenty of clearance from heat and flames.

--Remove grease or fat build-up from the grills and in trays below the grill so it cannot ignite.

--Never leave the grill unattended.

Gas grill users should check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it the first time each year by applying a light soap and water solution to it. If there's a propane leak, it will release bubbles. If a leak exists and there's no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill, then have the grill serviced by a professional if the leak stops or call the fire department if it doesn't. Also call the department if smelling gas at any point while cooking.

Use only equipment with the label of a recognized testing laboratory. Follow the manufacturer's instructions on how to set up the grill and maintain it. Never store propane gas tanks in buildings or garages. If storing a gas grill inside during the winter, disconnect the cylinder and leave it outside.

Charcoal grill users who have a "charcoal chimney" to start charcoal for cooking should use a long match to avoid burning their fingers when lighting the paper. If using starter fluid, only use charcoal starter fluid and never add charcoal fluid when coals or kindling have already been ignited. Never use gasoline or other flammable liquid to get a fire going. Keep charcoal fluid away from children and heat sources. When finished grilling, let the coals cool completely before disposing of them in a metal container.

For more safety tips, videos, facts and figures, visit http://www.nfpa.org/grilling.

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