Spring weather is here. For many South Dakotans that means getting outdoors and barbecuing or even standing around a campfire. While people take advantage of the warmer weather, first responders urge them to enjoy fire with caution. Sioux Falls Fire Rescue crews are using controlled demonstrations to prove how dangerous unattended grills and fire pits can be.
Sioux Falls fire inspector Tyler Tjeerdsma tosses hamburgers onto a grill that stands right next to a wall. He closes the lid, and within minutes the beige vinyl siding blackens and peels apart like taffy.
"If you came out and saw this, you’d want to go call 911 right away. Because even though the vinyl is starting to melt here, you don’t know what’s getting up behind that vinyl, if it is chasing up into the eaves or not, so you’d want to go call 911 before you did anything else," Tjeerdsma says.
Tjeerdsma’s gauge shows the wall is hotter than 360 degrees.
Grilling poses one set of threats with propane and charcoal. Sticks and leaves in fire pits are another hazard.
Crews put out a fire in a standard fire pit hours before, but they left the remnants in the container. Tjeerdsma shovels ashes into the garbage.
"You get done using your fire pit, you throw a little water on it, you put it in your trash can and go to bed. As you can tell, it’s only been less than a minute. The trash can is already smoking," Tjeerdsma says.
Soon smoke billows, and flames lick the air. Tjeerdsma says most people keep garbage bins next to their houses or inside garages. He says that makes it a major safety risk.
Officials say people don’t recognize the destructive power of fire pits, because they’re often used for recreation – like roasting marshmallows for s’mores.
First responders say fires lit outside of towns also pose threats, because fire spreads quickly through trees and grass.