Grill fires, electrical overloads top list of concerns for fire departments

Last updated: June 14. 2013 6:06PM - 1267 Views
By Christopher J. Hughes



Using extension cords to power certain appliances, particularly air conditioners in summer, is playing with fire.
Using extension cords to power certain appliances, particularly air conditioners in summer, is playing with fire.
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WILKES-BARRE – Summer is a great time to enjoy food from the grill, an evening around the fire pit or a few fireworks should you feel adventurous during the holidays.


But each of those summertime activities presents very real dangers for residents throughout Northeastern Pennsylvania.


Wilkes-Barre Fire Chief Jay Delaney said the issues that face the Wilkes-Barre Fire Department are no different than those in other communities in the region, but the city does have some ordinances in place to keep residents safe.


“First of all, there are no safe fireworks,” Delaney said. “Something as simple as a sparkler can burn at 1,000 degrees.”


Delaney suggested that families seek out public fireworks displays like those put on at Kirby Park to avoid the risk of injuries at home.


Residents also should be aware that it is illegal in the city of Wilkes-Barre to use a grill on a porch or patio with an awning or similar covering above it, and grills should be placed “well away from the structure” – at least five feet.


“You want to make sure grills don’t have a buildup of fat or any substance that might burn,” Delaney added.


Grills also should not be left unattended.


“These are common-sense things,” he said. “But we will respond to several grill fires during the summer.”


The city passed an open-burning ordinance in 2011 that calls for fines of up to $250 if a resident is conducting an unregulated outdoor fire or burning any vegetation or garbage.


Several exemptions to the ordinance apply. Residents may use traditional sources of fuel such as charcoal or untreated wood for outdoor grills; untreated wood may be used in a contained fire pit covered by a screen. Fires cannot be larger than one foot high and two feet in length and width, and the fire must be at least 15 feet away from combustible materials and adjacent property lines.


Open burning for ceremonial or religious purposes also is allowed, but burning is not allowed between midnight and 6 a.m. without authorized written consent.


Along with outdoor fire hazards, Delaney said, firefighters have responded to two major electrical fires caused by overloaded extension cords in the past month.


“It’s been an ongoing issue,” Delaney said. “It’s not just in Wilkes-Barre. It’s everywhere. We’ve had two really bad fires just in the last three weeks tied to the use of extension cords.”


Delaney said narrow-gauge wires can quickly heat up and cause a fire if too much power is drawn through an extension cord.


“The safest thing is to directly use a receptacle. If you have to use an extension cord, use the right gauge,” he said.


Delaney said hair dryers, curling irons and air conditioners draw enormous amounts of power. “All of these things are really not designed to be used with extension cords,” he said.


Electric overloads like the ones Delaney described were found to be the cause of fires at 398 Scott St. on May 22 and at the Interfaith Heights apartments on June 3.


“People need to think twice about using two or three extension cords or using that propane grill on their porch,” he said.

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