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Use caution when lighting gas grills
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- Cooking on a gas grill is so commonplace to many people that they never think of the danger involved in the simple procedure.
Gas grills use propane gas stored under pressure in a tank. This fuel is extremely flammable and can become explosive under certain conditions.
Herb Willcutt, safety specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service, said the proper way to light a gas grill is to turn the gas on at the tank, hold the lit match to the grill burner and then slowly turn the burner control on. Once the burner has lit, adjust the flame with the control knob.
"Probably the greatest danger is in turning on the gas and leaving it to escape in the area," Willcutt said. "If no wind disperses the gas, a large fire could result."
Willcutt said an explosion can occur when the gas burner is turned on and not lit immediately. Gas cannot escape quickly in a protected area, and when the grill is ignited, an explosion or flash fire can occur, burning people and structures nearby.
"Liquified petroleum gas is heavier than air, and most grills are designed with holes near the bottom to prevent large buildups of unburned gas," Willcutt said. "Do not attempt to close off these vent holes. In addition to preventing the buildup of unburned gas, they allow the air needed for combustion to enter the grill."
Willcutt suggested using long-stemmed matches or a torch lighter when lighting a grill, but cautioned that matches are hard to use in wind, and torch lighters can malfunction or run out of fuel. The longer the fire is not lit, the more gas accumulates in the grill, creating the potential for an explosion.
Light grills using either the holes near the bottom of the grill or special lighting holes at the front or ends of the grill.
"Stick the match or torch lighter through these holes," Willcutt said. "This keep the hands from being placed into the grill where they could be burned if the grill flashes. Never stand over a grill when lighting it."
Charcoal grills pose another threat when used incorrectly.
"Do not use excess charcoal starter," Willcutt said. "This may soak into the charcoal and leave a lingering petroleum taste to the food. It may also flash and flame up when lit."
Allow charcoal starter to burn off completely and wait until all coals are glowing before cooking. Never use gasoline to light charcoal as this can easily lead to an explosion.
With any grill, clear the area of flammable materials such as leaves and debris, newspapers, awnings, charcoal lighter fluid and extra LP gas bottles. Do not use a grill on a wooden deck as a dropped hot coal or burning grease could catch it on fire.