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Press Release  As Memorial Day Approaches, State Fire Marshal Urges Seasonal Safety

Don’t Let a Fire or Serious Burn Ruin Your Summer
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  • Department of Fire Services

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Jake Wark, Public Information Officer

A picture of a burning grill with the words "summer fire safety"

STOWAs Massachusetts heads into the Memorial Day Weekend, State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey is reminding 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. “Don’t let a fire or serious burn ruin your summer. Practice fire safety with friends and family safely this season, and you won’t have your local firefighters showing up as uninvited guests.”

Grilling Safety

More than 75% of grilling fires in Massachusetts occur between May and September. In the past five years, there have been more than 400 fires involving grills, hibachis, and barbeques. These fires caused one death, 10 civilian injuries, seven fire service injuries, and $4.6 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 at least 10 feet away from buildings 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 around grills. Keep children and pets at least three feet away on all sides.

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 can cause a flash fire and result in serious burn injuries.
  • Always use charcoal grills outdoors in a well-ventilated area. Burning charcoal briquettes give off carbon monoxide, a colorless, odorless gas that can be deadly.
  • 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.

Gasoline Safety

“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 Safety

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.

Mulch is especially prone to combustion caused by careless smoking. More than 200 structure fires started in mulch during the past five years, and the leading cause was careless smoking.

“If you still smoke, or if you have guests who do, please do it responsibly,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “Always use a deep, sturdy ashtray or a can with sand or water. Don’t 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

Almost all outdoor fires are caused by human activity. In the warm, sunny, dry weather expected during the coming days, these fires will spread to dangerous sizes quickly and require numerous firefighting resources to contain and extinguish. And because about 40% of Massachusetts homes are in Wildland-Urban Interface or Intermix zones, outdoor fires can easily threaten people and property.

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 a vehicle or power equipment such as a lawnmower on or near dry vegetation. A hot engine or exhaust can ignite dry grass, leaves, or debris, causing a fire like the ones that damaged a school in Northampton and consumed a home in Methuen last year.

“If you see a fire, call 9-1-1 to report it right away,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey.

Fireworks Safety

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.

In the past 10 years, illegal fireworks have cause nearly 1,000 serious fires and explosions in Massachusetts – including a three-alarm fire in Dracut last summer that displaced nine people. Collectively, these fires and explosions caused about $2.5 million in damages and dozens of injuries to firefighters and civilians alike.

“People are hurt and property is lost every single year in Massachusetts because of fires that start with illegal fireworks,” said State Fire Marshal Ostroskey. “Many cities and towns will have permitted fireworks 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.”


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