It’s nearly here: the Fourth of July. Time to celebrate freedom with friends, family, fireworks and food. It’s also time to remember that two of the best parts of Independence Day — grilling and fireworks — create fire risk. Let’s explore how you can protect yourself and those you care about so your holiday is fun and safe.
The Fourth of July is peak grilling season, a delicious but potentially dangerous time. Each year between 2013 and 2017, an average of 10,200 fires ignited from home grills, causing 160 injuries and $123 million in property damage.1 If your grill sparks a fire, it’s not just your property and loved ones at risk. The fire may spread to other homes or public lands.
To help you enjoy your barbecue chicken, burgers, kebabs, vegetables and everything else without worry, follow these grill safety tips.
- Never barbecue indoors. Always grill outside in a well-ventilated area.
- Know your grill. Read the instructions and safety warnings it came with and follow them.
- Clean your grill. Removing buildup from the grease and fats from the trays will help prevent flare-ups.
- Keep your barbecue away from combustible materials, such as railings, eaves, overhangs and branches.
- If you don’t already have one, buy a fire extinguisher and keep it nearby. If you do have an extinguisher, check the pressure gauge to ensure it is properly charged.
- Establish and enforce a three-foot “safe zone” around the grill where dogs and kids are not allowed. This practice keeps them safe from injury and prevents them from tipping over the barbecue and causing a fire.
- If you live in an apartment or condo, check the rules and find out what type of barbecue is allowed. Some complexes may ban barbecues altogether.
If you have a gas grill:
- Always check the connections before you use the grill for the first time in a season and again periodically throughout the summer. For more info on how to check your grill, watch this video from the National Fire Protection Association.
- Check the dates on your propane tank. It may need to be re-certified to ensure it’s safe. Check with your local refilling station to see if your tank is due for re-certification, also sometimes called re-qualification.2 An alternative to having your old propane tank re-certified is to purchase a new one.
- Check and double-check you’ve turned off the gas when you finish grilling. Don’t leave this step until after the meal is over. Turn the gas off as soon as you finish cooking so you don't forget.
If you have a charcoal grill:
- Never place hot coals in plastic or combustible containers such as wood boxes or paper bags. Metal is best.
- Be sure the coals are completely cooled before disposing of them.
Set off fun, not fires
Like grilling, fireworks can cause fires, and where there’s fire there’s likely to be burn injuries. In fact, in 2017, 53% of fireworks-related injuries were burns.
And like grilling, if a fire starts on your land and it spreads, you could be liable for the cost of response or property damage.
Washington state and many localities regulate fireworks, and some areas ban them. Before you light fireworks, check that they’re legal in your area. Rules change from year to year, so what was legal last year might not be legal this year.
If you do light fireworks, follow these fire safety tips:
- Set off fireworks only during approved times.
- Set off only legal fireworks.
- Keep a fire extinguisher, hose or other water source nearby.
- Do not set off fireworks near combustible materials, including dry fields.
- If a firework doesn’t ignite properly, don’t re-light it.
- Do not allow children to set off fireworks.
- Once a firework has finished burning, extinguish it completely with plenty of water before disposing of it.
Remember, if you want to enjoy fireworks without the work or worry, there are many public displays you can attend. As you celebrate the holiday, also remember that we at WSRB wish you a happy, and most importantly safe, Independence Day.
Robert Ferrell, P.E., is WSRB’s Vice President of Public Protection. He leads the team that manages the insurance rating of cities, fire districts and building departments throughout Washington state. He has more than 25 years of experience in fire insurance rating.
 National Fire Protection Association, https://www.nfpa.org/-/media/Files/News-and-Research/Fire-statistics-and-reports/US-Fire-Problem/Fire-causes/osGrills.pdf
 Propane 101, https://www.propane101.com/propanecylinders.htm