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Think fire safety this Labor Day holiday

Fire officials have a saying for this extended holiday weekend: “Start the food, not a fire, this Labor Day.”

It rings true, Brookhaven Fire Chief Tony Weeks said. Over the years, firefighters have been called to a few homes for fire or smoke on Labor Day.

In one call, someone had dumped coals by a fence.

“The coals weren’t out and they started the fence and grass on fire,” Weeks said. “The people said they thought the coals were out. You’ve got to make sure the coals are out before you dispose of them properly.”

Firefighters also could be called to respond to crashes over the holiday weekend. That calls for a reminder to wear your seat belt if traveling, Weeks said.

Nobody wants to call the fire department for an emergency, especially not during a holiday cookout or other celebration.

“It’s hot and it’s dry and it would be easy to start a fire from a grill, but people will be fine if they take precautions,” Lincoln County Emergency Management Director Clifford Galey said.

Galey, who is also fire coordinator for the county, and Weeks said the area has been lucky so far with no Labor Day fire tragedies that they can recall. The city’s paid firefighters and the county’s volunteer firefighters will work as needed.

“It looks like we’re going to have a beautiful weekend,” Galey said.  “We’re doing conference calls with the state every day at 1 p.m. (on Hurricane Dorian), but everything looks OK now. We’ll be keeping an eye on it.”

The state has had two cooking-related fire deaths so far this year, said State Fire Marshal Mike Chaney.

“In many of these cases, food was left unattended and there weren’t smoke alarms in the home,” Chaney said. “Overall, fire related deaths are down in 2019. At last check, there have been 39 fire deaths statewide compared to 57 at this time last year. I want to continue to see a decrease over the remainder of the year.”

Fire officials say propane and charcoal barbeque grills should only be used outdoors, putting the grills away from the home, deck and any overhanging branches on trees.

They also recommend you keep children and pets away from the grill, and never leave your grill unattended.

Some safety tips from the Mississippi State Fire Marshal’s Office:

Charcoal safety

• Keep your grill clean by removing grease or fat buildup from the grill surface and in trays below the grill.

• Charcoal chimney starters allow you to start the charcoal using newspaper as a fuel.

• If you use a starter fluid, use only charcoal starter fluid. Never add charcoal fluid or any other flammable liquids to the fire.

• Keep charcoal fluid out of the reach of children and away from heat sources.

• If you use an electric charcoal starter, use an extension cord approved for outdoor use.

• When you are finished grilling, let the coals completely cool before disposing in a metal container.

Propane grills

• Check the gas tank hose for leaks before using propane grills for the first time each year.

• Apply a light soap and water solution to the hose. A propane leak will release bubbles. If your grill has a gas leak, and there is no flame, turn off the gas tank and grill.

• If the leak stops, get the grill serviced by a professional before using it again. If the leak does not stop, call the fire department.

• If you smell gas while cooking, immediately get away from the grill and call the fire department. Do not move the grill.

Stand by your pan

• Be alert. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stovetop or oven.

• Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling food.

• If you must leave the kitchen for even a short time, turn off the stove.

• If you’re simmering, baking, boiling or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that the stove or oven is on.

• Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. Loose clothing can catch fire if it comes in contact with a gas flame or electric burner.

• If you have children, use the stove’s back burners whenever possible, and turn pot handles inward to reduce the risk that pots with hot contents will be knocked over.

• Never hold a small child while cooking.

Finally, have a smoke alarm in each bedroom. Smoke alarms should be checked every month and replaced every 10 years, Chaney said.

Story by Robin Eyman