Warm weather makes bonfires, grilling more dangerous

by Robin Huiras

Spring permeates the air. While some bask in the smell of flowers and grass, the aroma of charcoal gives barbecue connoisseurs the signal to break out the grills.
Students using grills this spring — or even sitting next to a bonfire — need to keep several safety issues in mind, said Daniel Bernardy, deputy state fire marshal.
Bernardy said barbecue chefs should always consider the weather when grilling. “April showers” do not equate safe grilling conditions. While most people think spring is a wet time of year, it’s actually one of the driest. And this year seems even drier than usual, said Minneapolis fire marshal Shari Pierzina.
“To me it’s unseasonable dry,” she added.
In addition to the below normal precipitation, backyard chefs need to consider high winds, officials said. While the city guidelines call for a distance of 25 feet from the nearest structure, Bernardy recommends moving at least 50 feet away when grilling or having a bonfire.
Pierzina advises people to not grill on wooden decks. The Minneapolis Prevention Bureau forbids the use of gas or liquid petroleum grills on patios of multi-residential buildings. Many apartments around campus fit into this description.
While bonfires are popular this time of year, officials said local ordinances should be followed. Bernardy said people wanting to have a bonfire should call the local fire marshal to find out if a permit is required.
Permits for bonfires on public property can range from $10 to $25 depending upon the size and number of desired uses, he added.
“The city of Minneapolis does not allow recreational fires larger than 3 feet in diameter and 2 feet high,” said Pierzina.
In addition Bernardy said the firepit should be at least 6 inches deep and lined with rocks inside and out.
After obtaining the correct permits and adhering to the size specifications, recreationalists should use common sense to avoid injury.
Bernardy said people should never try re-igniting a fire after it has been lit or grilling inside a house or garage. He also recommends always wearing loose-fitting clothing and using utensils with long handles.
In addition, grillers should maintain ample ventilation, consider the wind direction and use lighter fluid — not gasoline. Storing gas grills in the shade is vital because if the sun heats the pressurized tanks, they might explode.