STOW, MA — “Between the pandemic and the long New England winter, we’re all itching to get outside and enjoy ourselves,” said State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey. “Memorial Day weekend is a good time to prevent fires: tune up the grill; teach teens about gasoline safety; set up safe receptacles for smoking materials; and leave the fireworks to the professionals.”
Between 2016 and 2020, Massachusetts fire departments responded to 427 fires involving grills, hibachis, and barbecues. These fires caused 15 civilian injuries, six firefighter injuries, and $4 million in property damage. In 2020 alone, there were 74 grill fires that injured one civilian, one firefighter and caused $454,250 in estimated damages.
State Fire Marshal Ostroskey offered these safety tips for grilling safety:
- Always grill outdoors.
- Place grills 10-feet away from the house and deck railings. Make sure grills are not under eaves or overhanging branches.
- Do not use a gas or charcoal grill on any porch, balcony, or fire escape.
- Gas grills can be used on first floor decks or patios, only if there is an outdoor stairway to the ground, or it is at ground level.
- Keep all matches, lighters and lighter fluid away from children.
- Create a circle of safety. Keep children and pets three feet away from grills. Children should never play near grills.
On April 25, 2020, at 3:52 p.m., the Littleton Fire Department was called to a gas grill fire in a 1-family home. The homeowner started the grill on the rear deck and a while later noticed flames coming out the bottom. She went over to shut the LP tank off and burned her hands. The fire coming out the back of the grill ignited the exterior wall of the home and caused $75,000 in damage.
On May 30, 2020, the Lunenburg Fire Department responded to a gas grill fire in a 2-family home at 5 p.m. The grill was on a patio and ignited the exterior wall of the home causing $115,000 in damages. It spread to a nearby home causing another $1,000 in estimated damage. Smoke alarms alerted the residents.
On August 5, 2020, at 8:21 p.m., the Revere Fire Department responded to a gas grill fire in a 2-family home. The grill was on a third-floor porch and ignited the wall, causing $110,000 in damage. Smoke alarms operated but the home did not have fire sprinklers.
On September 13, 2020, the Plymouth Fire Department responded to a grill fire on the back deck of a single-family home. Working smoke alarms alerted the residents and no one was injured at this fire. The home had no fire sprinklers and damages were estimated at $110,000.
Propane is the most common grilling fuel, but many people use charcoal grills. Here are some charcoal grill safety tips:
- Only use charcoal starter fluid. Do not use gasoline or kerosene to start a fire in a grill.
- Never add lighter fluid to burning briquettes or hot coals. Doing so may cause a flash fire and result in serious burn injuries.
- Charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly. Always use charcoal grills outdoors in a well-ventilated area. Never use charcoal grills indoors.
- For proper disposal of grill ashes, allow the coals to burn out completely and then cool for 48 hours before disposal.
- If you must dispose of ashes before they are completely cooled, thoroughly soak them in water before putting them in a metal container.
Gasoline and Lawnmowers
State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “Is your teenager finally old enough to mow the lawn? Then be sure to discuss gasoline safety at the same time; talk about why it is important to let the engine cool before refueling.” Gasoline vapors are highly flammable and refueling a hot motor can ignite them. Gasoline spilled onto clothing can give off vapors until completely dry and be ignited by any heat source. Gasoline vapors can travel a long distance to find an ignition source, which is why gasoline cannot be stored inside the house. In the past five years (2016-2020), 338 lawn mower fires caused one civilian death, three civilian injuries, four fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $1.6 million.
- Store gasoline outside only in approved containers.
- Keep gasoline away from all heat sources, such as smoking materials, pilot lights, campfires, and grills.
- Refuel a cooled lawn mower. Never refill while it is hot.
- Keep hands and feet away from a mower while it is running.
On May 20, 2020, the Charlton Fire Department was called to a riding lawn mower fire. The owner stated that he had just given it a tune up and was mowing the lawn when he saw flames coming out from under the hood.
On May 21, 2020, the Halifax Fire Department was dispatched to a garden tractor fire in the yard of a single-family home. Gasoline in the engine ignited consuming the tractor. Damages were estimated to be $500.
On May 30, 2020, at 7:35 p.m., the Leominster Fire Department responded to a lawn mower fire in a back yard. The lawn mower backfired as it was being shut down and caught fire.
On July 24, 2020, at 12:51 p.m., the Northbridge Fire Department responded to a garden tractor fire in a back yard. The gas tank had recently been filled, and the fire started shortly after starting.
Gasoline and Outdoor Fires
“Never use gasoline to start a campfire or add it to any indoor or outdoor fire,” said Ostroskey. “We have had so many injuries this year from people mishandling gasoline and other flammable liquids.” In the past five years (2016 – 2020), Massachusetts hospitals have reported treating 137 people with serious burn injuries from gasoline.
On Sunday, July 19, 2020, a 39-year old Lawrence woman received burns to multiple parts of her body when someone poured gasoline onto a barbeque.
Smoking was the leading cause of fire deaths in Massachusetts last year, and there have been many fires this spring from improperly discarded smoking materials on porches and in backyards. These fires can smolder undetected for a long time and when they erupt into flames, travel fast. If they start on the exterior of the building, these fires can get a strong hold before the interior smoke alarms start to warn anyone of the danger.
“If you allow smoking on your property, provide appropriate receptacles for discarding smoking materials: a deep ashtray, a can with sand or water. Don’t let people toss smoking materials into the mulch, leaves, grass, potted plants or other containers that can catch fire. Don’t let them stub them out on the porch railing or stairs,” said Ostroskey.
He added, “Be a responsible smoker. Remember to put it out, all the way, every time.”
On February 1, 2021, at 12:30 a.m., the Milford Fire Department responded to a fire at a single-family home. The fire was started by a cigarette on a rear porch. Two people were injured at this fire. Smoke alarms alerted the occupants. The home did not have sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $270,000.
On March 18, 2021, the Carlisle Fire Department was called to a smoking fire in a single-family home. A cigarette ignited a porch rug. Smoke alarms alerted the occupants and no one was injured. There were no fire sprinklers and damages were estimated to be $110,000.
On April 22, 2021, the Berkley Fire Department responded to a smoking fire in a single-family home. A cigarette in an ashtray on the rear deck of the home started the fire. No one was injured at this fire. Damages were estimated to be $50,000.
On March 16, 2021, at 4:48 p.m., the Templeton Fire Departments was called to a smoking fire in a single-family home. The fire was started by discarded cigarettes igniting construction debris around the rear porch. No one was injured at this fire. Alarms were present and alerted the occupants. The home did not have sprinklers. Damages were estimated to be $20,000.
On April 19, 2020 a fire in two apartment buildings in New Bedford killed two men ages 40 and 49. It also displaced 40 other residents of two buildings. The fire was started in an alley way by smoking materials that were dropped from an upper floor landing in and igniting trash and debris near a dumpster.
Fireworks Fires Increased Nearly 200% Last Year
Marshal Ostroskey reminds us that, “The possession and use of all fireworks by private citizens is illegal in Massachusetts.” This includes sparklers, party poppers, snappers, firecrackers and cherry bombs, and more. “Leave fireworks to the professionals, and enjoy supervised displays,” he said. “It is illegal to purchase fireworks in another state and transport them into or possess them in Massachusetts,” he added. Last year, fires from fireworks increased 180% from 2019.
At 3 a.m., the exterior stairs of a 2-family home in New Bedford were ignited by illegal fireworks on May 27, 2020. Damages from this fire were estimated to be $3,000.
Around 11 p.m. on June 14, 2020, the Worcester Fire Department responded to a fire in a
3-decker started by illegal fireworks. People were shooting off fireworks in the neighborhood and one landed on and ignited the roof. Eleven people were displaced from their home. Smoke alarms failed to operate and damages were estimated to be $145,739.
At 1 p.m. on June 16, 2020, at 10:09 p.m., fireworks started a fire on the first floor porch of a
2-family home in Springfield. Damages from this fire were estimated to be $10,000.
On Monday August 10, 2020, the Orange Fire Department and several surrounding communities responded to a brush fire on Tully Mountain in Orange. It took several days to put out in the rugged terrain amid hot and humid weather. Remnants of fireworks and a campfire were found at the seat of the fire.
Early on the morning of October 10, 2020, a fire in a 6-unit apartment building in Boston was started when someone set off fireworks in the rear hallway. Twenty people were displaced. Damages were estimated at $3,250.
On July 7, 2020, a child was injured when fireworks went off in his hand near Carson Beach in South Boston.
At 1 a.m. on July 16, 2020, the Boston Fire Department responded to a car fire. Someone lit fireworks on top of a Mercedes Benz causing $8,000 in damage.
On July 20, 2020, at 12:30 p.m., a 43-yeard old Turners Falls man suffered a serious leg injury from illegal fireworks.
On July 9, 2019, a 4-year old Boston girl grabbed a burning sparkler that someone else was holding and received burns to her left hand.
In the past decade (2011-2020), there have been 941 major fires and explosions involving illegal fireworks in Massachusetts. These incidents resulted in 12 civilian injuries, 42 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $2.1 million.
Burn First Aid
- Stop, Drop, Cover and Roll to extinguish a clothing fire.
- Cool a burn. For minor burns, run cool water over the burn immediately.
- Seek emergency medical help immediately for more serious burns. Call 9-1-1.
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