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Summer Cookout Caution!

There are few things we cherish more than being able to get outside and enjoy the summer season with a great barbecue. But combining explosive fuels with food, hot metals, and large groups of people can be a recipe for disaster if you ignore important safety rules.

It's just a fact; fire is the most destructive force in the universe and you are inviting it into your backyard for a little cookout. Between 2007 and 2011, 27 percent of the home structure fires involving grills started on a courtyard, terrace or patio. 29 percent started on an exterior balcony or open porch and six percent started in the kitchen. So before you even think about firing up the grill, you need to have a fire extinguisher at the ready. Also, be sure you know how to cut fuel supplies, extinguish fires and have the number of the fire department handy, just in case.

Never operate a grill without first reading the manual. Grills, whether gas or charcoal, and smokers all have very specific ranges of operation. It's critical to follow all the safety restrictions to the letter, because if you have a fire and you didn't follow the instructions, it will be labeled as your fault, no matter what other extenuating circumstances there might be. If you can't find your manual, try looking on the manufacturers' website.

Location matters when it comes to cooking with outdoor grills and smokers. Sadly, every year hundreds of people cause fires to their houses, garages and patios because they didn't put their grill or smoker in the correct location. Your manual should tell you the minimum distance you need to have around your grill or smoker unit. It may be less convenient to move your grill further out away from the house but it isn't worth the risk of trees or buildings catching fire from a grease flare up or an accident with charcoal lighting fluid. Your grill should always be placed well away from your home, deck railings and out from under eaves and overhanging branches.

If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid and never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to a fire that has already been started. If you have a propane grill, you should check the gas tank hose for leaks before using it the first time each year. Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If the soapy bubble test reveals a leak or you smell gas and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill. If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department. If you ever smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.

Never leave your grill unattended while cooking and keep your grill clean so that you don't have grease build-up, which can cause dangerous flare-ups while the grill is in operation. Taking the proper precautions will help ensure all your summer gatherings are as safe as they are fun.

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