Firefighters put out a fire in a house near Belle Haven, Va. on Thursday, March 28, 2013. (Jay Diem/AP)

The smell of burgers wafting from a neighbor’s back yard is one of the earliest signs of spring. But as people dust off their grills and gather around fire pits, they should carefully inspect their equipment and go over safety tips with their families to help prevent fires.

“The best advice we have is to make sure to keep grills and anything with an open flame on it, whether tiki torches, citronella candles or firepits, away from anything combustible,” says Gregg A. Karl, a captain in the Arlington County Fire Prevention Office.

Gathering around a fire, whether at an outdoor kitchen, a chiminea or a stone outdoor fireplace, is a growing part of entertaining, according to Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association. “You should follow a lot of the same safety tips with these as with grills. Never leave them unattended and make sure that the fire is totally out before you leave them at the end of the event.” And never use a grill in a garage.

Four out of five families own a grill and barbecue at least once a week in the summer, according to Deborah Hanson, spokeswoman for First Alert, manufacturer of safety products. “We suggest a three-foot zone around the grill, whether it’s charcoal or propane,” Hanson says. “Keep kids and pets away and keep it away from siding, deck railings or overhanging branches. Clean the grill regularly and always remove the grease buildup from the trays underneath.”

Chris Hartley, vice president of marketing for Blue Rhino, a propane tank exchange company, says consumers should test propane grills for leaks. He suggests a solution of water and dishwashing detergent applied to spots where there is a connection between the grill and the tank. “If you see bubbles, you have a leak, and you have to take action and seek repairs,” he says.

Keep a fire extinguisher around, even if you’re not grilling. And “know how to use it ahead of time so you aren’t fooling around trying to figure that out when you need it,” Carli says.

If a fire breaks out in your back yard, Karl says to first call 911 before trying to fight it. “We would rather come out and make sure the fire did not extend out,” Karl says, “than come back two hours later with people trapped in the house because they did not call when it initially happened.”


Average number of home fires per year involving gas grills


Average number of home fires per year involving charcoal
or other solid-fueled grills

Areas of origin of home grill fires

National Fire Protection Association, Fire Analysis and Research Division