Tailgate Times

Fire Safety

By Karen Hunley

Those small, portable grills are perfect for serving up the freshly cooked burgers, hot dogs and chargrilled chicken that everyone seems to love at tailgate parties. And, yes, you’re bound to see some seasoned tailgaters roll out full-sized grills.

Grills, however, can be a significant fire hazard on campus during game days, according to the Auburn Fire Division.

To illustrate, one campus fire began during the ’97 LSU game when someone dumped hot coals right next to the old student activities building, located where the stadium parking deck is now. Fire crept up the side, engulfing the building in flames. The student center burned to the ground, causing several million dollars in loss.

Tailgaters sometimes also leave still-hot grilling materials unattended, and grill too close to RVs and other vehicles.

Tips on grilling

The Auburn Fire Division and Bill James, public safety director for the City of Auburn, provide these tips for grilling while tailgating:

  • Maintain a “safe zone” of at least 3 feet in circumference around the grilling area to minimize risk to guests.
  • Before using a gas grill, check the connection between the propane tank and the fuel line.
  • Do not leave grills unattended.
  • Do not wear loose clothing while cooking at a barbecue.
  • Be careful when using lighter fluid. Do not add fluid to an already lit fire because the flame can flash back up into the container and explode.
  • Keep all matches and lighters away from children. Teach them to report loose matches or lighters to an adult.
  • Dispose of hot coals properly—douse them with plenty of water, and stir to ensure the fire is out. Never place them in plastic, paper, or wooden containers.
  • Never grill/barbecue in enclosed areas—carbon monoxide could be produced.

Flaming RVs


RV fires are also a potential fire hazard since most RVs have gas-powered heating and air systems that can malfunction. These systems are usually safe, but owners need to make sure they are functioning correctly before heading out for the weekend.

And because RVs are generally located in such close proximity to each other, flames can easily leap a few feet to other vehicles.

This fire demolished tailgaters’ RV in October 2006.

This fire demolished tailgaters’ RV in October 2006.

Generators that tailgaters use to power TVs and radios can also be a concern. Make sure to turn off a generator before refilling it with gas, and keep it in a well-ventilated area away from any flammable materials.


What to do

If debris of any kind catches fire, the Auburn Fire Division emphasizes that the most important step is to call 911 and give a precise location description. Tell the operator street names, nearby landmarks, what row you are located on in an RV lot, etc.—the more details, the better.

In case of a grill fire, close the lid to cut off oxygen to the fire. And anyone that brings a grill to a tailgate spot should also bring a fire extinguisher.

Finally, remember the sage advice you’ve heard all your life—“stop, drop and roll”—if your clothing catches fire.