Summer is in full swing. And being that it's Fourth of July weekend, local residents will be out grilling in full force.

While gas grills, portable fire pits and patio heaters make the outdoors even more inviting, they have to be used properly.

In Fairfield, there were roughly 15 gas grill fires of greater and lesser degree last summer.

In Norwalk, Fire Marshal Glenn A. Iannaccone pointed out that most grilling incidents last year were a result of a leaking propane tank.

The connections have to be done properly to avoid leaks.

Marc McEwan, deputy fire marshal of Darien suggested that when changing propane to take a cup of soapy water and pour it on the valve to ensure there is no leaking -- if it bubbles there is leaking and you should not use the grill.

Iannaccone also reminded residents that when having tanks filled, never transport them in a closed vehicle. And if you go to the store to shop for other items, get your tank filled after you complete your shopping instead of leaving the tank in the vehicle. The tank can become overheated in an unattended vehicle and the pressure relief valve can release propane into the vehicle.

And remember the use of propane grills, in excess of 2-and-a-half-pound containers, is prohibited on decks of multifamily dwellings that are located one above the other by the fire code.

When using charcoal, remove the coals from the deck when they cool. They should be placed in a metal container on the ground away from the house and wet down. Hot coals tend to hold heat for a long time.

The Propane Gas Association of New England also offered tips to ensure a safe, fun time with family and friends this summer.

"¢ Always keep the lid open when lighting your grill. Don't close it until you are sure the grill is lit.

"¢ Keep the grill in a well-ventilated area, at least ten feet away from the house--and at least three feet away from trees and shrubs.

"¢ Never use a grill indoors or in any unventilated space. This is both a fire and carbon monoxide poisoning hazard.

"¢ Always use and store propane cylinders outdoors in an upright position.

"¢ Never use, store or transport propane cylinders near high temperatures.

"¢ Never use matches or lighters to check for leaks. Never use starter fluid with propane grills.

"¢ Before lighting your propane grill for the first time, check the cooking grid and warming rack to be sure both are in their proper place. Clean the grid, the interior of the grill, and the burner (according to the manufacturer's instructions) with a wire brush or scraper to remove any built-up food. If the grill does not ignite within 10 seconds, turn off the gas, keep the lid open and wait five minutes before trying again. If the igniter fails to light the grill after two or three tries, turn off the gas and replace the igniter according to the manufacturer's instructions.

"¢ Do not smoke while handling a propane cylinder.

"¢ When refilling the cylinder, always have the supplier check for dents, damage, rust and leaks.

"¢ Regularly check the tubes that lead into the burner for blockage from insects or food grease.

"¢ Use a pipe cleaner or wire to clear blockage, pushing it through to the main part of the burner.

"¢ Designate the grilling area a "No Play Zone," keeping kids and pets away from the equipment.

"¢ Always have one person in charge of the fire at all times. Never leave a hot grill unattended.

"¢ When your grill is not in use, cover the disconnected hose-end fittings with plastic bags or protective caps to keep them clean.

"¢ Never attempt to repair the tank valve or the appliance yourself. See a propane gas dealer or a qualified appliance repair person.

"¢ If you smell gas and you are able to, safely turn off the cylinder vale, turning it to the right (clockwise). Immediately leave the area and call 911 or your local fire department. Before you use the grill again, have a qualified service technician inspect your cylinder.

For information on the value and safe uses of propane, visit www.pgane.org and www.usepropane.com.

"With simple appliance updates and proper maintenance, people can get a head start on ensuring safe, enjoyable time with family and friends outdoors," Joe Rose, president of the Propane Gas Association of New England, said in a statement.

Just a little effort can go a long way to guaranteeing your backyard is a fun, cozy, comfort zone this summer -- not a danger zone.