GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Frieda Wood was enjoying some dinner on the grill at her home on Elm Street near Division Avenue late Wednesday.

But it would be a costly meal.

“I went to the store, I came back home, and my house was on fire,” Wood told News 8 as she returned to survey the damage caused by a fire that started early Thursday morning.

Her son escaped unharmed. Now they must look for a new home.

“I grill all the time … I didn’t think it would catch my house on fire — I would lose my home,” said Wood.

But it happens more than you might think.

The fire on Elm Street was one of two in a span of hours Wednesday night and Thursday morning. The second involved a garage near Dickinson Street and Eastern Avenue. Crews fought to keep the flames from spreading from the detached garage to the home.

The scene of a grill fire on Dickinson Street SE near Eastern Avenue on June 7, 2023. (Courtesy Grand Rapids Professional Fire Fighters L366)
The scene of a grill fire on Dickinson Street SE near Eastern Avenue on June 7, 2023. (Courtesy Grand Rapids Professional Fire Fighters L366)

Firefighters fear that without some public education, things could get worse.

“July is our biggest month for grill fires, so we’re trying to make the public aware to be safe using their grills,” said Grand Rapids Fire Department Capt. Kara Johnson.

Johnson said the most common mistake is leaving a hot grill too close to the house.

“They’ll push it back toward the structure when they’re done. And it’s still radiating heat,” said Johnson.  

“And so you will see that the vinyl siding is on fire. It’s a slow process. Once it actually gets on fire, then that’s when we get called and it’s usually already in the walls by then,” she said.

If it happens at night, chances are you and your family will be asleep inside, unaware of the danger.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, between 2014 and 2018, fires involving home grills averaged over 10,000 a year and led to 10 civilian deaths, 160 injuries and $147 million in property losses. No one was hurt in the Grand Rapids fires over the last few days.

But there are ways to reduce the risk.

GRFD reminded people to maintain a 3-foot “safe zone” around your grill. Gas-fueled grills cause the majority of grill fires, so check your gas lines for leaks. You shouldn’t use your grill on a deck that can catch fire and you should keep it at least 10 feet from a structure.

You should clean your grill after each use, frequently clean grease traps and open gas grills before lighting them. Throw away coals only in a metal container and only after they have cooled. Don’t keep the container near anything that could catch fire.

Never leave a grill unattended.

Wood said heeding those warnings can save you from a lot of heartache.

“Just stay safe while you’re grilling. That’s it,” she said.