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They were enjoying a pleasant Whatcom evening, but it ended with an insurance claim

A split propane line on an outside grill caused a small fire that spread to a home in southern Whatcom County Wednesday evening. It serves as a warning to out backyard grillers to keep their stoves at a safe distance from homes and fuel sources this summer.
A split propane line on an outside grill caused a small fire that spread to a home in southern Whatcom County Wednesday evening. It serves as a warning to out backyard grillers to keep their stoves at a safe distance from homes and fuel sources this summer. The Bellingham Herald file

There aren't many things that say "summer" more — a cold beer in one hand, a spatula or tongs in the other, a barbecue sauce-stained apron, perhaps some good friends standing around laughing and, of course, a favorite slab of meat or two sizzling away on the grill. Can you smell those waves of sweet, smokey flavor enveloping you?

Hey buddy, wipe that drool off your chin!

Unfortunately, this imminent meat coma was interrupted by a fire for one south Whatcom household Wednesday night. South Whatcom Fire crews were called to a home south of Bellingham's Lake Padden Park, at 5:46 p.m. on reports of an explosion.

Fortunately, there was no explosion, South Whatcom Fire Authority Chief Dave Ralston said. Instead, the line between the propane bottle and grill was too close to the stove, causing it to split and catch fire. The fire spread to some of the siding on the house.

"By the time we got there, the homeowner had already done a good job extinguishing the flames for the most part," Ralston said. "We pulled some things apart to make sure it was completely out. It probably caused $3,000 to $5,000 in damage."

It also provided a vital warning to all homeowners and renters who enjoy cooking out as grilling season descends upon us.

"People should make sure they read the instructions from the manufacturers (of the grills) on the distances to keep the grill away from propane bottles and the lines between the two," Ralston said.

Ralston also advised keeping a grill a minimum of three feet away from a house — more preferably five feet.

According to statistics on home grill fires released by the National Fire Protection Association earlier this month, grills, hibachis or barbecues were involved in an average of 9,600 home fires per year between 2011 and 2015. Of those fires, an average of 4,100 were structure fires.

The 9,600 fires also caused an average of 10 deaths, 160 injuries and $133 million in property damage each year.

About one in five of those fires (22 percent of structure fires and 20 percent of non-structure fires) were caused by failure to properly clean a grill. Other causes to be aware of include:

▪ A grill too close to a combustible (17 percent structure fires, 10 percent non-structure).

▪ An unattended grill (17 percent structure fires, 12 percent non-structure).

▪ A leak or a break (nine percent structure fires, 20 percent non-structure).

▪ An outside cooking fire (eight percent structure fires, seven percent non-structure).

▪ Other mechanical failures (six percent structure fires, seven percent non-structure).

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