CHESTERFIELD, VA (WWBT) – Charred remains are a scary reminder of how serious a simple mistake can leave people scrambling for their lives.
"I woke up out of my sleep and heard a bang noise and I looked on the balcony and there was fire coming down," said Alexia George who lived in the Rollingwood Apartments.
32 people were left without a place to stay after a building at the Rollingwood Apartment Complex in Chesterfield County went up in flames. It started on a third floor balcony.
And a small grill is the culprit. You may not believe that huge fire was caused by such a little grill, but it's true. The Chesterfield Fire Department says this is the reason why: we actually found that several people have these grills on their patios and they grill on them all the time and have no idea its illegal.
Chesterfield firefighters are going door-to-door making sure residents are aware of the law. It's an awareness campaign heading into the big holiday weekend. The response is no surprise to Lt. Jason Elmore with the fire department.
Jason Elmore: "Were you aware that you can't cook on there?"
Selena Care: "No!"
And good thing we told Selena Care when we did. She planned on using her grill, on the patio.
"That is shocking because I was like, wow, you can't grill? I thought you could grill. It's a patio," she said.
Here's the state fire code: If you live in a multi-family home, or bigger, you must grill at least 10 feet away from the building. That includes charcoal and gas grills. Propane tanks cannot be stored on your patio at any time.
"I think we should move it! Something bad could happen!" said Marlieysi Rivera.
"It is something against the law and you can be criminally charged for it," Elmore said. Including some time in jail, and a big fine. That's what the owner of the grill that caused the Rollingwood Apartment fire is facing right now.
"I need to let them know it's against the law to grill on a patio," said Selena.
And she wasn't kidding.
"She's telling her neighbors already," Elmore said.
"I probably would roast hot dogs right here on that. I wouldn't move something like this out of the way," said Yvonne Castaneda.
That's illegal. And you can a lot of people have grills here.
"I see a lot of them doing it right on the patio instead of moving it out," she said. "Now that we know, we won't be grilling here."
Elmore hopes that message spreads like fire through the county. Some people do know about the law, though, including those in Justin Chamberlain's apartment complex. He hopes others get the message too - pointing to his 2-year-old Kaeden as a reason why.
"Look at my 2-year-old. Do you really want to see him on TV not making it out of a building if it caught on fire?" he asked.
"The best suggestion is to use a charcoal grill. That way you can store it on your patio," Elmore said.
But remember, you can't fire it up on your patio, and only store it on your patio after the coals are cooled off. All of it to hopefully avoid seeing massive flames near your home.
In some areas, you can grill closer to your place if your building, patio and deck have a sprinkler system. Check with your local fire department.