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Barbeque, Fire and Ashes!

Aug 17, 2007
Down here in the south it's a given that every red blooded male escapes the womb knowing how to make great barbeque. Give him a match and a bag of charcoal and he can make even the most sensitive of noses quiver with the aroma of a pork shoulder smoking over a pile of briquettes.

Unfortunately, the act of playing with fire often brings out the idiotic side of more than a few backyard chefs! It's good to note that there is a distinction between outdoor cooks; city dwellers and country boys. City folks can't really be expected to know a lot of things that their country cousins take for granted, such as what to do with your coals and ashes once you've finished using them.

It would seem that the removal of the ashes is a no-brainer, but the Fire Marshall in our town tells me otherwise. Some folks just do not like to get their grill wet and messy from dousing the coals with water. Firefighters I talked with had a few expletives to share with me about their latest call to a barbeque genius in our town.

By all indications, this hearty fellow would be classified as a southern gentleman and should have known better. In our part of North Alabama, it has been a dry year. It's only the middle of April and we are already 12 inches below our normal amount or rainfall. Everything is parchment dry and susceptible to the tiniest spark! This is no place to leave charcoal on the grill and allow it to burn itself out.

We'll call this fellow Billy Earl, (not his real name). After letting the charcoal burn until all the coals were cold, he shoveled the ashes into an old paper grocery bag and threw it into a large outdoor trash can. After the clean up from the party, the can was filled to over flowing with paper plates, napkins and an assortment of other paper material. Billy Earl keeps the trash can in his garage next to his automobiles.

Everyone went to bed that evening with the satisfaction of knowing that another outdoor cookout was a success and plans for the next one were already percolating in their dreams. About 3:00 a.m. the smoke alarm rudely interrupted those dreams. Smoke had engulfed most of the house by this time, but they could see no fire; only an eerie glow from the garage.

Sirens could be heard in the distance. Friends next door had seen the flames in the garage and called the fire department. Soon there was a small crowd of neighbors huddled together across the street from Billy Earl's house, cringing at small explosions that occurred periodically. Paint thinner and gasoline cans had been stored under his work bench. Not anymore! Fortunately the fire was contained to the garage and the kitchen. All that was lost was the kitchen, a '78 Camaro and a new SUV.

The fire started in the bottom of the overfilled trash can by charcoal briquettes that were not completely out. This, I discovered was not an uncommon call to the fire department. Our local fire fighters are called out several times a year to put out fires that have been started by "cold ashes".

While there are few restrictions regarding barbeque fires in residential areas of the city, there are definitely some that apply to apartment dwellers. For multifamily units you can't grill on the porch or deck, balcony or breeze ways of the building. In addition, the barbeque grill has to be at least 10 feet away from the building. Our Fire Marshall told me that these rules are basically the same everywhere, with the space between grill and building varying depending upon the city.

No matter where you live, the idiocy factor comes into play. Nation wide, 45-50 people die each year from barbeque related fires, while a few thousand more are injured. If you plan on having a cook-out on a hot, dry Saturday afternoon on your deck, make sure you have some kind of covering on the deck and not expose the wood to sparks form the grill. Better still, move the grill away from the house so there's no chance anything can catch on fire!

It's sad, but most states now have barbeque safety tips. This implies that there are a lot of folks out there who do not know their way around a barbeque grill. That's a sad commentary on our society!
About the Author
Bob Alexander is well experienced in outdoor cooking, fishing and leisure living. Bob is also the author and owner of this article. Visit his sites at:
http://www.redfishbob.com
http://www.bluemarlinbob.com
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