Outdoor Fire Safety

Don’t Let a Fun Day Go Up in Flames

Summer is in full swing! It’s time to enjoy long warm days, delicious food on the outdoor grill and evenings with loved ones around the campfire or fire pit. But that fun quickly can go up in flames – literally – if proper precautions aren’t taken. This is especially important when it comes to properly disposing of ashes from your outdoor grill, fire pit or campfire.

Some startling statistics

  • According to the U.S. Fire Administration, “heat from hot embers or ash is the most common cause of outdoor fires overall, accounting for 15 percent of all outdoor fires.”
  • Coals or ashes from outdoor fire pits, grills and campfires can stay hot enough to ignite a fire for much longer than you might think. The City of Portland, Oregon’s Fire & Rescue department reports that, depending on what kind of materials were burned, how hot or how long the fire lasted, ashes can stay hot for several days.
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that between 2009-2013, “fire departments responded to an average of 8,900 home fires involving grills, hibachis, or barbeques each year.” On average each year, these resulted in 10 civilian deaths, 160 reported civilian injuries, and $118 million in direct property damage.  Of that total, 1,200 of them were due to charcoal or other solid-fueled grills.

So, maybe it’s ok to be the proverbial wet blanket on the party after all. As long as it’s at the end of the party, of course.

Five Tips for Safely Handling Ashes from Your Fire Pit, Campfire or Grill:

  • Don’t just Douse it, Drown it!  Completely drown the entire fire pit, grill or campfire, not just the embers. Stir the ashes around to be sure that the area is completely wet. Usually until the hissing sound stops
  • Take it from Smokey Bear: “If it’s too hot to touch, it’s too hot to leave.”
  • Can it! Store ashes in a metal can that’s specifically designed for ashes. They’re relatively inexpensive and easy to find online or in your local big box store. Never put ashes in a paper bag, plastic trash bag or trash barrel. Additionally, many fire pits can be equipped with a cover. Just make sure it’s exactly the right size.
  • Keep away! Never store the ashes in or near anything that could catch fire, such as a deck, shed or close to the house.
  • Never let children play with the ashes, such as using a stick to poke around, or scooping up ashes

But first things first: Before starting that fire, be sure to check with local authorities to be sure you’re following the rules. Also, reach out to your homeowners insurance company to understand if specific coverage is required.

Now that you have tips on how to safely handle ashes from your outdoor grill, fire pit or campfire, it’s time to grab the burgers, marshmallows and have fun. Enjoy!

For more information and tips on outdoor fire safety, check out the Public Education section of the NFPA’s Website

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