Weekly Wire
Nashville Scene Fire Warning

If the grills don't get ya, the grill cops will

By Walter Jowers

JULY 17, 2000:  Just about every time we inspect a condominium, co-inspector Rick and I find a patch of melted siding on the back wall, about the size of your average over-the-motel-bed painting. Invariably, our nervous condo-buying customers want to know what caused the heat buildup.

"Lack of common sense," I tell 'em. Then I end the suspense and explain, "That's where somebody put a grill. The heat from the grill melted the siding."

I'm here to tell you: I'm amazed that there's a multi-family building still standing in Nashville. The high melted-siding rate, along with the unforgettable apartment fire a few years back--caused by somebody taking a smoldering log out of the fireplace and throwing it out on the wood balcony--tell me that Middle Tennessee's condo and apartment dwellers just can't be trusted with fire.

I don't want to be mean-spirited about this, but let me be clear: I am picking on the Yardless Community. I'm talking about you people who don't mow, and don't know which one of those air conditioners at the end of the building is yours. Taken as a breed, y'all are careless with fire, and a danger to yourselves and others.

I'm not the only one who thinks so. Even now, building code and fire department officials are combing apartment complexes and cracking down on grill-owning apartment dwellers, according to last Sunday's 9 o'clock news on WZTV. If you've got a grill less than 10 feet off your building, the grill cops are coming for you. If they knock on your door, don't try to give them any lame story about how you just use the hibachi as a flowerpot. It's illegal to even store a grill inside the 10-foot zone, on any apartment deck, porch, patio or balcony, according to WZTV.

If I were a grill-owning apartment dweller, I'd just get rid of my grill now, before I ended up getting wrestled to the ground by some over-amped public official. Truth be told, I've never understood the attraction of outdoor grilling. Oh, I've read articles that go on about the joy of cooking in the fresh evening air, away from the heat and confines of the indoor kitchen. Sounds okay if you're Martha Stewart, up in New England, with a crew of fancy henchmen to do the cooking for you. But I grew up in South Carolina, which has two summertime temperatures: bathwater-hot and hell-hot. There's not much appeal in the notion of going out into humidity that hangs on you like a wet polyester disco shirt, standing over red-hot coals, and fighting hungry mosquitoes, gnats, and flies.

Tending a grill is on the list of things I never have done, and never will do-- right up there with really-and-truly dancing, getting a tattoo, wearing sandals, kissing a man, and enjoying the music of Elton John. (I've got nothing against people who do any or all of that, but it just ain't me.) When I want to eat something grilled, I'll go to a restaurant that has a grill, park myself right next to an air-conditioning vent, and watch somebody else tend the fire.

I wonder what the grill cops are going to do when they find a grill within 10 feet of an apartment building. Will they issue a warning? Will they weld the grill shut? Confiscate it? Will they set up giant speakers and blast "Honky Cat" at the building until everybody comes out?

Or might they destroy the guilty grills the way cigar enthusiasts destroy illegal Cuban cigars? If they want to go the destruction route, I suggest the method employed by Purdue engineer George Goble back in 1994, when he dumped five gallons of liquid oxygen onto a grill that contained one smoldering charcoal briquet. In Goble's experiment, the grill erupted into a sun-bright fireball, and was vaporized in three seconds. You can see the nifty fireworks on the Internet, at http://ghg.ecn.purdue.edu.

My guess is that the whole grill-cop story is bogus. I say they're not really out there. I think the codes and fire departments just issued a press release saying there would be enforcement types prowling around, hoping that the news coverage would scare apartment dwellers into grilling out in the parking lot.

If any of you apartment dwellers actually get busted for having a grill too close to your house, e-mail me. I can't wait to hear your story. Get yourself arrested, or get your grill confiscated, and I'll put your name in the paper. Your mama will be so proud.

While I'm waiting to hear from you grill criminals, I'm going to stay well away from grilled stuff, just in case the fire deputies are looking for an excuse to come after me. I'll be sticking to my regular summertime diet, which consists chiefly of frozen chocolate-dipped bananas from Bobbie's Dairy Dip, chilled York Peppermint Patties, and 35-degree skim milk.

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