Fire officials warn against unsafe holiday grilling methods

May 23, 2008|By HEATHER KEELS

TRI-STATE -- With summer around the corner and Memorial Day barbecues fast approaching, local fire officials are spreading the word that grilling too close to an apartment or town house building is not only dangerous, but illegal.

"It's something that we struggle with every year, to raise awareness of the danger," said Jason Mowbray, deputy chief state fire marshal

According to Maryland state law, it is a violation to use a gas or charcoal grill on a balcony, under an overhang or within 15 feet of a dwelling other than a one- or two-family home, Mowbray said.

The distance restriction on multifamily buildings reflects the increased risk of loss of life if an apartment building catches fire, Mowbray said.


"Say you're on the second floor of a five-story apartment building," Mowbray said. If the fire from a grill gets out of control, those living three floors above are likely to be affected, he said.

Many local apartment-dwellers and even some management companies are unaware of the restrictions, Mowbray said.

"Everyone says, 'Oh, it's a gas grill. What could be the harm?'" he said.

However, it's common for grills to catch fire, particularly when there is a buildup of food and greasy debris, Mowbray said. And with gas grills, that is especially risky.

"You have a pressurized cylinder of flammable gas stored right there with it," he said. "As you can imagine, it's a dangerous combination."

Electrical appliances such as George Foreman grills that have been approved by a Maryland-approved testing laboratory are exempt from the restrictions, Mowbray said. He recommended apartment-dwellers either switch to that type of safer device or work with management to set up a common space for grilling a safe distance from the building.

Mowbray said if residents do not respond to warnings about unsafe grilling locations, they could face criminal sanctions such as fines and jail time.

"That's a last resort," he said. "We try to work with everybody. That's why we're giving them the letters and pretty much putting them on notice. We're giving them time to remedy the problem."

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