State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey, Shrewsbury Fire Chief James Vuona, president of the Fire Chiefs Association of Massachusetts, and Chief Fire Warden David Celino of the Department of Conservation and Recreation are asking residents to practice fire safety this summer.
“Memorial Day is the unofficial start of summer, and we want to remind everyone to play it safe as they enjoy the warm weather,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “Take the appropriate safety precautions against fires and burns so you can have fun all summer long.”
“Don’t let a fire or serious burn ruin your summer,” said Chief Vuona. “Practice fire safety with friends and family safely this season, and you won’t have your local firefighters showing up as uninvited guests.”
“We’ve seen increased brush and wildland fire activity and larger fire growth during the spring fire season this year,” said Chief Fire Warden Celino. “As more people spend more time outside in the warm months ahead, we want to be sure everyone enjoys the great outdoors safely and responsibly.”
More than 75% of grilling fires in Massachusetts occur between May and September. Between 2012 and 2021, there were 908 fires involving grills, hibachis, and barbeques. These fires caused 35 civilian injuries, 10 fire service injuries, and $8.9 million in estimated damages.
General Safety Tips for Grilling:
• Always grill outdoors, never inside.
• Do not use a gas or charcoal grill on any porch, balcony, or fire escape.
• Place grills 10 feet away from the house and deck railings. Make sure grills are not under eaves or overhanging branches.
• Gas grills can be used on first floor decks or patios, only if there is an outdoor stairway to the ground, or it is at ground level.
• Keep all matches, lighters and lighter fluid away from children.
• Create a circle of safety. Keep children and pets three feet away from grills. Children should never play near grills.
Charcoal Grill Safety:
• Only use charcoal starter fluid. Do not use gasoline or kerosene to start a fire in a grill.
• Never add lighter fluid to burning briquettes or hot coals. Doing so may cause a flash fire and result in serious burn injuries.
• Charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly. Always use charcoal grills outdoors in a well-ventilated area.
• For proper disposal of grill ashes, allow the coals to burn out completely and then cool for 48 hours before disposal.
• If you must dispose of ashes before they are completely cooled, thoroughly soak them in water before putting them in a metal container.
“Serious gasoline-related burns peak in the summer months, with about 40% reported from June through August,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey.
Gasoline vapors are highly flammable and refueling a hot motor can ignite them. Gasoline spilled onto clothing or rags can give off vapors until completely dry and be ignited by any heat source. Gasoline vapors can travel a long distance to find an ignition source, which is why gasoline must not be stored inside the house. There have been nearly 900 gasoline-related fires in Massachusetts over the past 10 years, causing nine deaths, 132 injuries, and over $19 million in damage.
Gasoline Safety Tips:
• Never use gasoline to start a fire or add it to any fire.
• Store gasoline only outside the home, such as in a locked shed, and always in an approved container. Never store gasoline in the home or basement.
• Gasoline should only be used as fuel for an engine, not as a solvent.
• Refuel lawnmowers, leaf blowers, mopeds, and other devices only when the engine is cool. Never refill while it is hot.
• Keep gasoline away from all heat sources, such as smoking materials, campfires, and grills.
Smoking materials have been the leading cause of fire deaths in Massachusetts for decades, and there have been many fires this spring from improperly discarded smoking materials on porches and in backyards. Smoking fires can be particularly dangerous because they may smolder undetected and then erupt into flames that grow rapidly. A fire that starts on a porch, balcony, or exterior stairway can get a strong hold before smoke alarms inside warn anyone of the danger.
Massachusetts fire departments reported almost 5,000 smoking-related structure fires between 2012 and 2021. These fires claimed 108 lives, including the life of a Watertown firefighter, caused 610 injuries to civilians and firefighters, and resulted in nearly $200 million in damages. Cigarettes and other smoking materials cause an even higher number of fires outdoors, including brush fires.
“If you still smoke, or if you’re having guests who smoke, please do it responsibly,” said Chief Vuona. “Always use a deep, sturdy ashtray or a can with sand or water. Don’t let people toss smoking materials into the mulch, leaves, grass, or planters, and don’t stub them out on the porch railing or stairs. Remember to put it out, all the way, every time.”
Brush and Wildland Fire Safety
According to Department of Conservation & Recreation data, there were more than 1,100 wildland fires on non-federal land in Massachusetts last year, burning more than 1,600 acres. More than 1,000 acres have burned in more than 400 fires so far this year. Everyone can and should play a part in preventing them by using caution and common sense when camping, cooking on the barbecue, extinguishing smoking materials, or riding dirt bikes or ATVs in wooded areas.
“More than 98% of wildland fires in Massachusetts are caused by human activity,” said Chief Fire Warden Celino. “These fires threaten our forests, they can severely tax local and regional firefighting resources, and they put people and homes in harm’s way.”
Brush and Wildland Fire Safety Tips:
• Before setting up a campfire, be sure it is permitted by checking with the local fire department.
• Clear away dry leaves and sticks and overhanging low branches and shrubs.
• Avoid burning on windy, dry days.
• Keep campfires small so they are easier to control and attend to them at all times.
• Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids.
• Always have a hose, bucket of water, or shovel and dirt or sand nearby to put out the fire.
• Make sure your campfire is out cold before leaving.
• If using an ATV, dirt bike, or other off-road vehicle, be sure the spark arrestor is properly installed, as required by Massachusetts law
• Don’t park an ATV, dirt bike, or other off-road vehicle on or near dry vegetation, and turn the engine off when stopped for an extended period of time.
Massachusetts law prohibits the use, possession, or sale of fireworks in Massachusetts without a license, even if they were purchased legally elsewhere and then transported into the state. Their possession or use carries a fine of up to $100, and sale carries a fine of up to $1,000 and a year behind bars.
“People are injured and property is lost every single year in Massachusetts because of fires that start with illegal fireworks,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “If you want to watch fireworks this summer, many cities and towns will have displays that are carefully managed and organized by licensed experts. For the safety of our friends, families, and communities, let’s leave fireworks to the professionals.”