With the unofficial start of the grilling season over the recent Memorial Day weekend, area fire officials are urging caution when barbecuing this spring and summer.

The National Fire Protection Association says propane and charcoal grills cause 8,300 home fires annually. Nearly 7,100 of those fires are caused by propane grills.

Mark Harshman, a division chief with Casper Fire-EMS, says it’s critical that propane grillers check the condition of their tanks and hoses before loading up their barbecues with burgers, hot dogs and brats.

“You don’t want to do that by using a match – you want to use a soapy water solution that will bubble up if there happens to be a leak,” Harshman said. “We also want to check our grill hoses for any cracks, brittleness or holes that may have developed over the winter.”

Harshman says, while charcoal grills are statistically safer to use than propane grills, those who use charcoal may encounter specific challenges.

“There really are some safety tips for charcoal – like making sure that you use a fluid that is designed for using charcoal,” Harshman said. “You would never want to use gasoline.”

Harshman also says it would be sensible for barbecue enthusiasts to check local fire conditions prior to grilling.

The NFPA urges people to keep children and pets at least 10 feet away from active outdoor grilling areas and to never leave grills unattended.

For gas grilling, the NFPA recommends grillers completely turn off their barbecue for at least 15 minutes if the flame goes out. Grillers should call their local fire department immediately if they smell gas.

For charcoal grills, the NFPA says it’s critical to keep children away from charcoal fluid. Fire officials also recommend that charcoal briquettes be immediately disposed of in a metal container after cooling completely.

Additional grill safety tips can be found at the NFPA’s website.