Outdoor Safety All Summer Long

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By Susan McKelvey and Ryan McGinnis
National Fire Protection Association

Cookouts, camping, and fireworks are common hallmarks of summer celebrations and festivities. And why not? After enjoying steaks off the grill and roasted marshmallows from a campfire, an evening capped off with the glow and crackle of fireworks can create a nearly magical experience for just about anyone. Unfortunately, these activities do have something else in common that’s not quite so magical—they each present potentially serious fire risks.

Person Grilling FoodAccording to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an average of 8,800 home grilling and outdoor fires occur in the U.S. each year, causing an annual average of 10 civilian deaths, 140 civilian injuries, and $96 million in direct property damage. Meanwhile, NFPA reports show that fireworks caused an estimated 17,800 reported fires in 2011, resulting in an estimated 40 civilian injuries and $32 million in direct property damage.

Of course, these statistics shouldn’t limit your summer cooking to the kitchen or stop you from enjoying fireworks altogether. They can all be safely enjoyed by following some basic guidelines and precautions, as outlined below.

Outdoor Grilling

Gas grills present a higher risk of fire than other outdoor cooking sources, and were involved in an annual average of 7,200 home fires. Charcoal or other solid-fueled grills were involved in an annual average of 1,400 fires. With that in mind, here are NFPA’s recommendations for safe gas and/or charcoal grilling all season long.

  • Propane and charcoal BBQ grills should only be used outdoors.
  • The grill should be placed well away from the house, deck railings, and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.
  • Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from the grill area.
  • Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grills and trays below the grill.
  • Use long-handled grilling tools to give yourself plenty of clearance from heat and flames.
  • Never leave your grill unattended.
  • Always make sure your gas grill lid is open before lighting it.
  • For propane grills, check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it for the first time each year by applying a light soap and water solution to the hose. If you have a gas leak, bubbles will form.
  • Light a propane grill only with the top open.
  • If you use a charcoal chimney to start charcoal for cooking, use a long match to avoid burning your fingers when lighting the paper. If you use an electrical charcoal starter, be sure to use a grounded extension cord. If you choose to use lighter fluid, use only fluid that is intended for charcoal grills.
  • Never add charcoal starter fluid to coals or kindling that has already been ignited.
  • Never use gasoline or any other flammable liquid in lieu of approved charcoal lighter fluid.
  • Store the charcoal starter fluid out of reach of children and away from heat sources.Dispose of charcoal coals only after they are cool. Empty the coals into a metal container with a tightfitting lid that is used only for coal collection. Place the container away from anything that can burn. Never empty coals directly into a trash can.

Outdoor Fires

If you’re planning to build a fire outdoors, make sure to follow these tips:

  • Burn only dried, seasoned wood, never trash, in an outdoor fireplace. Not only is it cleaner for the environment, but it will create less buildup in the chimney (if your outdoor fireplace has one).
  • Follow the manufacturer’s recommendations when using artificial logs. Never use more than 1 log at a time.
  • Use only newspaper and kindling wood or fire starters to start a fire. Never use flammable liquids, such as lighter fluid, kerosene, or gasoline, to start a fire. The invisible vapors they produce can easily catch fire.
  • Keep your outdoor fireplace or fire pit outside only and at least 25 feet (8 meters) away from your home or any flammable material.
  • Be sure to keep your children and pets away from an open fire by creating a “kid-free zone,” or an area of at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from the fireplace.
  • Always keep buckets of water nearby to extinguish the fire. Be sure to cover the entire fire with water in order to ensure every coal is extinguished.
  • Under no circumstances should you leave a fire burning when you go to sleep.
  • When making a fire outside, be sure to clear the perimeter around the fire of dead leaves, pine needles, and broken twigs—anything that can catch fire.
  • Check with your local fire department or municipality for any restrictions before starting an open-air, recreational, or outdoor cooking fire. Obtain proper permits if necessary, as you might not be allowed to build outdoor fires in some areas and in some seasons.
  • Avoid burning on dry, windy days when the chances of the open fire turning into a forest fire rise exponentially.
  • If you’re feeling adventurous and have the proper permits and have taken the necessary precautions needed to host a bonfire, be sure that it is at least 50 feet away from anything that can burn.
  • As always, supervise children around any fire outdoors, including campfires, fire pits, chimineas, and outdoor fireplaces.


Despite their popularity, consumer fireworks can be extremely hazardous. Each year on July 4 alone, improper use of fireworks accounts for 2 of every 5 reported fires, more than any other cause.

In short, fireworks are simply too dangerous in the hands of consumers, so keep in mind the following tips so that you can safely enjoy them:

  • Leave fireworks to the experts—attend only public displays conducted by trained professionals.
  • After a fireworks display is over, never pick up or allow your child to pick up fireworks that may be left over, as they may still be active.
  • Do not use consumer fireworks (ie, sparklers and firecrackers). Even small fireworks pack quite a punch, as their temperatures can reach as high as 1,200 degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot enough to melt glass.

This summer be prepared to enjoy these summer traditions properly and safely. Get your grills in tip-top condition for a season of cooking and entertaining, and find out what public fireworks displays are planned in and around your area. These are the keys to creating wonderful, fire-safe summer memories you’ll want to hold onto.


For more fire safety information, visit http://www.nfpa.org

This story is an excerpt from The Phoenix Society’s® Burn Support Magazine, Issue 2, 2014. Burn Support Magazine is a tri-annual publication that contains articles on the emotional, psychological, and social aspects of burn recovery.  All Rights Reserved.
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