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Up in smoke: Don't let a grilling mishap ruin your summer cookout
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Dont forget safety as grilling season revs up. - photo by Photo Contributed

What starts out as a fun summer evening with a few friends can quickly become a reminder that not paying attention while grilling can be dangerous.

"Before I realized what had happened, I had burned my eyebrows, eyelashes and an inch of my hair all around my face," recalls Laura Anderson, 25, of Chanhassen, Minn. "I waited too long to hit the ignite button after turning on the propane, and the next thing I knew a fireball erupted from the grill."

Stunned and luckily unharmed, Anderson did not sustain any major injuries but her story may be all too familiar to many grillers.

"It was a scary experience and I was embarrassed to walk around with singed eyebrows, but it definitely reminded me to be more careful when using the grill," says Anderson.

Grilling is an American tradition and summertime staple. Most of the time, grilling cookouts go off without a hitch but accidents can and do happen. Each year, grilling related accidents send an estimated 20,000 people to the emergency room and cause a reported $75 million in property damage.

Regardless of the type of grill - gas, charcoal, hibachi or smoker - grilling accidents happen and can have serious consequences. Improper grill care or careless grilling techniques can quickly ruin summer fun and cause a variety of accidents ranging from minor burn injuries to major fires and explosions.

"Refreshing your memory of basic grill safety may save you from a costly or dangerous accident this summer," says Bryan Lewis, propane risk manager for CHS, a supplier of Cenex brand propane.

Give the grill a once over

Propane grills are the most popular type of grill in the United States and can also be the most hazardous. Lewis recommends that if you have an old gas grill, especially one more than 10 years old, you should consider replacing it with a grill that has new, important safety features.

If your grill is still in good shape, the best way to avoid accidents is to keep it properly maintained. One simple precaution is to make sure grills are clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grill surface and drip trays that can create grease flares and splatters.

"People are always in a hurry to light the grill and that's when a lot of accidents can happen," explains Lewis. "You should always follow the manufacturer instructions for operating the grill and routinely check the propane hose for leaks, even if that means taking an extra couple of minutes before lighting the fire."

Before starting the grill, Lewis recommends taking one minute to test for gas leaks by applying a light soap and water solution to the gas tank hose. If bubbles appear, a leak is present and you should turn it off and seek professional maintenance.

Keep a distance

Follow basic grill safety and use common sense when choosing where to set up your grill. Grill outdoors at least 10 feet away from the house, garage or other combustible buildings or objects.

"You'd be surprised by how many people forget this most basic rule of grilling," says Lewis. "It may seem convenient to grill on your deck, or to pull the grill inside the garage if it's raining, but accidents happen, people can get injured and houses can catch on fire."

From 2005 to 2009, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 8,200 home fires involving grills each year according to a 2011 report from the National Fire Protection Association.

"Even when having summer fun, people need to remember that propane can be dangerous, says Lewis. "Regardless of whether you're using propane to light the grill, power appliances at the cabin or heat your home, safety and precaution should always come first."

In addition to keeping grills a safe distance away from buildings, remember to keep children and pets at least three feet away to avoid the risk of getting burned. And, of course, never leave grills unattended.

Don't toss bricks

When using a charcoal grill, wrap-up your cookout the right way. Hot charcoal bricks and ashes need to be disposed of properly to avoid trash can fires that can potentially spread to the surrounding area. Douse hot coals with plenty of water and stir to ensure the fire is out. Never place hot coals in plastic, paper or wooden containers and avoid dumping them on the ground where cookout guests, children and pets might step on them.

For more helpful summertime tips, including summer driving tips and ways to improve your gas mileage, check out the Cenexperts blog written by experts with CHS at