With summer – and the holidays and barbecues that come along with the weather– in full swing, the use of open flames in backyards across the country skyrockets.
However, what many don’t think about is the increased fire hazards that come along with outdoor entertainment. Some activities, like fireworks, have obvious inherent dangers, but other seemingly innocuous backyard decorations, like tiki torches, come with a set of risks that you may never have considered. Each year an average of 8,900 home fires are caused by grilling, outside fireplaces or fire pits caused nearly 3,700 grass and brush fires, and from 2009-2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 18,500 fires caused by fireworks. These statistics, provided by the National Fire Protection Association, serve as a reminder that while your summer party might be a highlight of the year, safety should never falter in favor of fun.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect your home and property while still enjoying outdoor festivities. Below, are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with any open flame on your property:
- Never leave any open flame unattended and be sure to completely extinguish before heading in for the night
- Keep all flames at least 3 feet away from structures
- Never allow children to handle or stand close to open fire
- Have an ABC fire extinguisher nearby
- Always check and obey all local (including HOA bylaws), state and federal laws
Following the guidelines above, as well as the specific tips in this article relating to each type of fire hazard, will help you to mitigate your risk of damage and injury in the summer months.
A staple on decks and patios, bamboo torches offer not only light, but often bug-repellant features that make them attractive additions to your yard. But like any open flame that comes with risks, the safest option is to trade in the traditional tiki torch for one with a battery-operated or solar-powered flame less candle. If you’re not willing to go faux-flame, always follow these tips:
- Keep a 6 to 8 foot safe zone between each torch, as well as between the torches and any structures
- Secure torches to the ground so the wind does not easily knock them over
- Use fuel specifically made for tiki torches and keep it stored in a cool, dry place away from open flames
- Do not attempt to add fuel to a lit torch
- Do not try to extinguish with water
- Before lighting, check your torch for signs of scorching — unwoven or unruly strips can be caught by the flame, while split or damaged staffs can snap and fall
Sky lanterns can be thought of as miniature hot-air balloons: One lights a candle or wax fuel cell and the hot air generated lifts the attached canopy high into the air. They have become popular for celebrations, memorials, and public gatherings, but while beautiful to behold, they present a major fire hazard and are currently banned in most states, and prohibited by National Fire Prevention Association.
Some companies are striving for safety by making the lanterns out of flame-resistant tissue and bamboo, and making them drip- resistant, but the risk persists as an open flame is traveling in an uncontrolled fashion, and, once airborne, can drift more than a mile into neighboring properties.
- Backyard fire pits
- Check the direction of the wind before starting a fire
- Avoid wearing flammable or loose-fitting clothing
- Burn only appropriate, non-pressure treated firewood – do not burn trash, leaves, paper, debris, etc.
- Double check that the fire pit lid will close before starting the fire so that it can be extinguished in case of emergency
- Never give fireworks or sparklers to children, or allow them to help in the cleanup
- Always wear safety goggles when setting off fireworks
- Keep a bucket of water and hose nearby
- Light one firework at a time, and quickly move a sufficient distance away
- Always read all labels on fireworks before lighting them
- Dispose of used fireworks by dumping water on them and placing them in a metal trash can away from any building or combustible materials until the next day
- Never place any part of your body directly over a fireworks while lighting the fuse
- Never try to re-light or pick up fireworks that have not fully ignited
Outdoor fireplaces and fire pits add warmth, ambience and roasted marshmallows to backyard gatherings across the country, but, like any open flame, they can up your risk of fire and burns. To avoid falling victim, follow these guidelines when operating a firepit:
Sparklers and fireworks
The NFPA is opposed to all consumer use of fireworks, including sparklers, which, while seemingly child-friendly, burn at a surprisingly high 1200 degrees Fahrenheit. Fireworks cause 18,500 fires each year, so if you want to enjoy a show, your best bet is going to a festival and leaving the pyrotechnics up to the experts. If you do decide to set off consumer fireworks on your property, remember these safety guidelines to mitigate risk of fire and injury:
- Check propane tanks for leaks at the start of each season
- Remove grease from grill and trays after each use
- Check that your grill lid is open before lighting it
- Only use charcoal started fluid
- Let coals completely cool, then move into a metal container
Few things say summer like the smell of the barbecue fired up, but whether your lighting up charcoals or the propane tank, grills have their own unique set of fire risks that should be tended to in order to ensure a dinner free of unruly flames.
For gas-powered grills:
For charcoal grills:
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