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Arlington Fire Department Warns of Apartment Grilling Danger

by ARLnow.com April 27, 2011 at 3:47 pm 8,905 26 Comments

With prime grilling season approaching, the fire department is reminding apartment, condo, duplex and townhouse dwellers that open flame cooking on balconies is not only extremely dangerous, but a Class 1 misdemeanor in Arlington.

“A lot of people, they don’t really think about it, they just go out and grill,” said Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Lt. Gregg Karl. The end result, often times, looks like the video above, or like this news report from Spokane, Wash.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are some 5,700 grill fires annually, causing 10 deaths, 100 injuries and tens of million of dollars worth of property damage. Many of those fires start in multifamily dwellings.

Because of the danger to the public, laws against apartment grilling are strict. Anyone caught grilling illegally in Arlington can face up to 1 year in jail or a $2,500 fine, Karl said.

Rather than firing up a gas or charcoal grill on your balcony, one option is to use an electric grill.

“Only electric cookers and electric grills are allowed on balconies of [multifamily] occupancies,” the fire department says on its ‘Barbecue Safety’ web site. “No charcoal cooker, brazier, hibachi, grill or any gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquid or liquefied petroleum gas-fired stove or similar device… shall be ignited or used on the balconies of any apartment building, stacked units, or other structures with similar occupancy.”

(The fire department’s web site also includes what we’re told is a “delicious” recipe for ‘Fire Chief Flank Steak’ from Chief James Schwartz.)

Karl said anyone with questions about the regulations should contact their building manager or call the county’s fire prevention office at 703-228-4644.

  • CW

    Hmm. Several thoughts come to mind. One – why the hell is grilling outdoors with gas any more dangerous than cooking indoors with it? Charcoal, duh, obviously, but gas? Is a porch railing really that much easier to set on fire compared to anything in your kitchen?

    Second of all, do they plan to enforce this? Take a run down the back end of the townhouses in Market Common…every other one is a violator…

    • CW

      Actually, to add to / clarify my second point – are rowhouses considered to any extent under the law to be “multifamily dwellings”? They are not inherently so in that each one is discretely owned, but if there are shared walls does that make it a single dwelling that is multi-family? I do not know the nuances of the interpretation of the applicable statutes, but that interpretation would affect the validity of my previous comment (or, if it turns out that rowhouses are not covered in the ban, it would affect the lead line to the story). I’m quite curious – if rowhouses are indeed allowed to have grills, it would almost seems to be somewhat discriminatory seeing as to how the assumed safety issue – that of fire spreading to other dwellings – still exists.

      • Arlington, Northside

        Townhouses are exempt. What is silly is that the code does not make reasonable exceptions in either direction. All those woodframed townhouses with connected wood decks out in Ashburn are exempt, but the Concrete Balconys with steel railings and no balconey above, attached to brick lowrise buildings in places like Fairlington and The Arlington condos can’t even have a gas grill. This is one code that should take other things into account before exemptions or enforcement is made.

        • PhilL

          There should also be exemptions for these


          • Arlington, Northside

            Those can easily be kicked over though and have the sterno sread when it does…..don’t ask me how I know….dumb fraternity brothers….grumble grumble.

          • CW

            Yes, I can understand a law against ornamental buckets of flaming charcoal.

            Also – anytime I click on one of those shortened URLs and DON’T get rickrolled, a part of me is really disappointed.

            But still, the hypocrisy on the townhouse vs. condo/apt issue…anybody wanna take it up a notch and play the class warfare card? Although in this case, here in arlington, it would be the “really well off” class versus the “still pretty darn well off” class.

          • PhilL

            That’s why you use them in the kitchen sink or a pot on the stove. And the one I had years ago took regular charcoal.

  • Ummm
  • Thomas

    There are inconsistencies in the language on the flier and the language of the code.

    As the owner of a duplex, I was concerned that I was in violation by operating a gas grill at all within 15 feet of my home, let alone on my deck.

    However, the actual ordinance seems to say townhomes and duplexes are exempt.

    But it’s not easy to read unless you have a law degree.

  • “According to the U.S. Fire Administration, there are some 5,700 grill fires annually, causing 10 deaths, 100 injuries and tens of million of dollars worth of property damage. Many of those fires start in multifamily dwellings.”

    By many you mean 10.9% according to U.S. Fire Administration statistics.

  • Hank Reardon Capn_Hank

    Doggonit folks, when one lives in an apartment, he/she assumes all of the risk of the other folks living there too. One can only hope that his/her apartment unit isn’t right next door to the village idiot, a drunk who smokes, or, a balcony grilling expert…

    And given that you just may be living next door to that person… We should seriously consider making it a law to have these new door identifier gadgets installed in all of these apartments everywhere. They aren’t expensive and it can really help people, “especially” the elderly and children (who are the most at risk) find the door when their home is filled with smoke; which, by the way, happens in just seconds in a fire. A Battalion Chief friend of mine told me about these things called LightSavers and I ran across an article about them on FireRescue1 that same day and I looked at them online. I’m impressed. If anyone is interested, you can see them at their website: http://www.TheLightThatSavesLives.com They also have a video that he showed me of how it works on YouTube at Lightsaver L-100 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XJ-haxhq2y8

    For whatever its worth, I think these things could really help during a fire; especially when it comes from out of the blue and is caused by the guy downstairs’ behavior.

    -Cap’n_Hank (ret.)

  • G550

    Whether or not its “safe” in an apartment building with concrete floors, columns, balconies, etc, its still inconsiderate to those above/below and next to you if you’re grilling outside. If their window is open, the smoke will come into your unit. That might be why?

    • Arlington, Northside

      The fire code should not care about what is considerate and what is not. Only with what is safe and what is not. A grill on a concrete balcony in an apartment or condo with nothing above it is going to be safer for all concerned than a grill on a townhouse’s wood deck .

  • Danville Mayor

    You can walk around Arlington every weekend and see people breaking this ordinance. I wonder if it is really enforced.

    • Arlington, Northside

      It is enforced with warnings followed by fines. At least it was five years ago in South Arlington.

      • fairlingtonresident

        It’s not enforced in North Fairlington. They only come out to inspect if someone calls in a violation. I hadn’t heard of the townhouse exemption before though — in Fairlington I don’t see what difference that makes.

        • Arlington, Northside

          I got a warning in 2004, neighbor did too, and since they ignored it got a $200 fine.

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  • GrillingManiac

    I am a lifelong Weber gas and charcoal griller, and am now moving to a four story apartment complex. I fully realize the danger of using open flames in places like apartment terraces, attached home decks, etc., and so I will be giving up my beloved grills (all four of them), and will use a Weber Electric grill instead. I hope it works passably well, but if not, I am stuck with this. Having had a grease catch pan go up in flames once, I cannot imagine it happening in the confined and flammable space of most apartment terraces. It took over twenty minutes for the flames and smoke to subside, during which a great deal of noxious smoke poured out of the grill. I would probably be evicted should that happen in an apartment complex. It’s sad, but necessary, and I will comply.

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