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Fire officials warn of summer dangers

Northwest Guardian

Published: 03:36PM June 19th, 2014

Western Washington’s dry season almost has arrived, and Joint Base Lewis-McChord’s fire prevention officials are reminding the community about fire safety.

Fire inspector Edward Chavez said fireworks, unattended cooking and cigarettes are the three big concerns during this time of year.

Fireworks are easy: they can’t be possessed, distributed, sold or lit off anywhere on base property, Chavez said.

Base police can fine people they catch setting them off, Chavez said.

People living off base should check their city’s fire and safety codes to see if fireworks are allowed there. For instance, Tacoma bans all fireworks inside its city limits, but Lakewood allows for “safe and sane” fireworks use.

“Sometimes people are in a hurry,” Chavez said. “The mentality’s not there.”

Unattended cooking can be indoors or outdoors, Chavez said. People tend to focus on the outdoor cooking, usually a barbecue while the weather’s nice, and leave the stove running unattended indoors.

Chavez said it’s best to have a responsible person indoors monitoring whatever is cooking there, while the primary cook handles the barbecue.

Chavez also warned people to watch their charcoal after they finish. If you can’t touch the coals because of their heat, they’re too hot to throw away.

If you’re renting a grill from the Directorate of Family & Morale, Welfare and Recreation, you might have to use water to cool the coals, depending on when you start barbecuing, Chavez said.

“Personally, mine sit for a few days,” Chavez said.

The National Fire Prevention Association recommends all barbecuing take place at least 15 feet away from structures, including wooden fences if possible, just in case. That way a barbecue that catches fire only will roast the barbecue and not the structure.

Distance is a special concern at JBLM, where most on-base housing has vinyl siding that melts and exposes more flammable material behind it, Chavez said.

“It’s not what you do,” Chavez said, “but where you do it.”

For cigarettes, distance matters even more. Smoke away from flammable areas like trees, grass or beauty bark, which can dry out during the summer.

Once you’re in a safe or designated area, use only authorized butt cans instead of metal containers like coffee cans. Chavez said makeshift cans rust and develop holes that expose whatever’s underneath to cigarette ash.

“It’s a matter of planning everything out,” Chavez said. “If people would take 30 seconds to put things together, we’d have fewer fires.”

Building managers in charge of designating such places can attend a class put on by the Fire Prevention Office to find out more about it.

Chavez said classes are held the first and third Wednesdays of each month. Call the fire prevention office at 966-7156 for details on the class and any other questions.