The Saanich Fire Department was called to a barbecue fire likely caused by faulty fuel lines in mid-May. (Photo courtesy Capt. Carl Trepels)

Welcome to grilling season: Island firefighter talks barbecue safety tips

Grills should be cleaned, serviced prior to use, firefighter says

Warm summer weather and barbecue dinners seem to go hand-in-hand but Vancouver Island firefighters are reminding residents to inspect their grills before firing up.

“It is so important to ensure that proper cleaning and servicing of your barbecue is done before you start,” said Capt. Carl Trepels of the Saanich Fire Prevention Division.

There’s typically a spike in barbecue fires at this time of year, he said, adding that these fires can easily move from the grill to nearby structures or combustibles. Trepels said fire crews were called to a barbecue tank fire in mid-May that was “likely a result of a loose-fitting or damaged fuel line.”

To avoid fires, grills should be cleaned regularly – Trepels recommends weekly cleanings for barbecues that are used frequently.

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“Grease build up in the drip tray can easily ignite once heated, causing a fire in the barbecue and this hot grease can also drip onto the fuel lines which can be extremely dangerous,” he explained.

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) also recommends regular barbecue maintenance – including checking for loose fittings on the burners and inspecting fuel supply lines to the propane cylinder for loose connections or cracks.

According to the NFPA, a one-to-one solution of water and soap can be used to check for both cracks and loose fittings; apply the soapy water to the supply lines with a paintbrush or a spray bottle and then open the fuel valve. Any bubbling will indicate a leak and the gas should be shut off before replacing damaged fuel lines or faulty propane cylinders.

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If a fire does start in a barbecue, Trepels said it’s important to close the lid quickly and, if it’s safe, turn off the fuel before calling 911. He added that a dry chemical fire extinguisher should be used for grease fires, never water, and barbecues should be kept at least 10 feet from buildings, railings and other combustibles to keep fires from spreading.

Gas grills should have a blue flame with yellow tips – an orange flame is a sign of incomplete combustion which can lead to carbon monoxide poisoning, Trepels said. In that case, he recommends contacting a licensed gas fitter for repairs.

Trepels noted that it’s never safe to grill indoors – not only is it a fire risk, but it can produce carbon monoxide. He added that while there are no regulations banning the use of grills on condo or apartment balconies, according to the Propane Storage and Handling Code, a 20-pound propane cylinder is the most that can be stored outside on an open deck or patio.

RELATED: Stranger climbs onto B.C. family’s second-floor balcony, lights fire in barbecue

When it comes to charcoal briquettes, Trepels said Saanich does allow them for grilling, but only manufacturer-recommended charcoal lighter fluid should be used and briquettes should be completely extinguished before being thrown away.

“This is that wonderful time of year when people are outdoors, enjoying the warm weather and the grill gets fired up,” but safety precautions must be taken for responsible barbecuing, Trepels said.

For more safe grilling tips, visit the NFPA website at nfpa.org/grilling.

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