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Check County Fire Code Before Firing Up the Grill

It’s National Barbecue Month, and as the weather warms up, more people are firing up the grills. But before getting caught up in grilling, it might be a good idea to make sure you’re familiar with the Arlington County fire code.

According to Arlington County Fire Department spokesman Captain Gregg Karl, problems can arise with people in multi-unit residences, such as condos and high rise apartments, who may not even realize they’re violating the code.

No grills, combustible devices or open flame cooking devices are to be used or stored on balconies and rooftops. Fire pits and similar types of warming devices are also banned. Electric devices without an open flame are acceptable.

Most standalone homes and townhouses with ground level patios are exempted from the rules. However, the fire department still recommends trying to keep the device 15 feet away from the building, or as far as space allows.

“You do still have the potential for a fire if something goes wrong with the grill,” Karl said. “We want people to be aware of where they’re putting the grill and the potential dangers.”

Landlords are supposed to inform tenants, in writing, of all the fire code regulations upon move-in and lease renewal. After that, tenants are responsible for following the regulations.

Those who are found to be in violation of the code will be issued a notice and given the opportunity to remove the offending items. Failure to correct the violation could result in a citation and fine.

Karl encourages people with questions about the rules to call the Arlington County Fire Prevention Office at 703-228-4644.

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Abnormally Dry Weather, Cigarettes Create Fire Danger

The warm, abnormally dry weather may be enjoyable for many people trying to partake in outdoor activities, but it’s causing a headache for firefighters.

Due to our area being about four inches below normal in rainfall for the year, more small fires have been sparking. Arlington County Fire Department Captain Gregg Karl said the county isn’t experiencing as many brush fires as some neighboring areas, but there have actually been a lot of mulch fires in the past few weeks.

According to Karl, most of the trouble has been with smokers trying to extinguish their cigarettes in plant boxes or areas with mulch. In many cases, the cigarettes smolder on the extremely dry, flammable material and then start a fire. Even drivers throwing cigarettes out of car windows has been causing trouble, because there’s mulch on many of the street medians in Arlington. Smokers are reminded to make sure cigarettes are completely extinguished, and to only use approved receptacles to dispose of them.

Even if we get some rain this weekend, it likely won’t be enough to alleviate the elevated fire danger.

“Unless we were to get a good, long, soaking rain, the fire danger will remain,” Karl said. “We need a persistent rain for a few days to get our levels where they need to be.”

Karl said some residents hear about red flag warnings and have questions about open burn restrictions. However, open burns of items such as yard clippings and debris are never allowed in Arlington, per the county code.

Another thing that goes hand in hand with warm weather is grilling, which can be a hazard as well. Anyone using a charcoal grill is reminded to use extra caution with the coals.

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Arlington Fire Department Warns of Apartment Grilling Danger


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.

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