Could simply cooking dinner catch your home on fire?
The fact is, 43% of all home fires begin in the kitchen. In 2011, there were 156,300 kitchen-based fires reported in the United States, causing 470 deaths, 5,390 injuries, and a billion dollars in property damage. This is not a statistic that anyone wants to be included in, so what can you do to avoid burning more than the roast or the toast?
Types of Kitchen Fires
Kitchen fires fall into three general categories:
- Oil or grease fires (aka pan fires)
- Electrical and appliance fires
- Fires caused by flammable items being too close to a heat source
Preventing Kitchen Fires
Most kitchen fires can be prevented with careful attention to a few simple precautions. Here are a few tips for preventing each type of fire.
Oil or grease fires
- Never put hot grease in a garbage can. Keep a metal or glass container near your stove to pour used drippings or grease in to cool before throwing it away.
- Do not overheat any fat or oil for frying. Use a thermometer to gauge the temperature. Also, it’s helpful to know the smoke point and flashpoint of the oil you’re using, as they differ.
Electrical and appliance fires
- Do not use extension cords for appliances—toasters, toaster ovens, microwaves, mixers, etc. They are not always as safe as plugging the actual cord into a proper outlet, and may not be equipped to carry the voltage your appliance requires.
- Clean your toaster regularly, being sure to get old, dry bread crumbs out. Many toasters have a slip-out tray underneath to catch these—but also turn the toaster upside down to be sure you get as many out as you can.
Flammable object fires
- Wear clothing and sleeves that are close fitting when cooking. It’s too easy for loose clothing to drift close to a burner and ignite. Roll or push sleeves up when possible.
- If you have frayed or worn appliance cords or plugs, have them replaced.
- Keep small appliances such as toasters and mixers unplugged when not in use.
- Keep your stovetop and counter clean of grease, food, and clutter. Keep spray cans such as vegetable baking spray and air freshener safely away from the cooking area.
- Keep flammable objects—hot pads, mitts, towels, dishcloths, aprons, recipe books or cards, and paper towels—away from heat sources.
Other tips for preventing kitchen fires
- Stay in the kitchen while food is cooking! Make it a practice to turn off all burners if you have to leave the kitchen even for a “second.”
- When baking, use a timer; it’s easy to forget that sheet of cookies when you’ve been baking several or multitasking.
- Keep small children away from the stove and oven when anything is cooking. Always turn pot handles so that they don’t extend out where little ones can grab them and pull hot foods down on themselves. Some burner controls, especially those on the front of the stove, can be secured so that small hands can’t turn them on. (Check with your hardware store.)
Extinguishing Kitchen Fires
Oil and Grease Fires
- Put a lid (or an upside down pan) over the pan to smother the fire and deprive it of oxygen. Turn off the heat source.
- If that doesn’t do the trick, use a dry chemical fire extinguisher (not a water-based one).
- If you don’t have an extinguisher, tear the top off a box of baking soda and carefully dump the contents on the fire. Salt also works. DO NOT substitute flour, sugar, or baking powder! They can explode and make the fire much worse. According to the Ohio Fire Safety Board, one cup of flour or sugar potentially has the explosive power of two sticks of dynamite!
- Never put water on a grease or oil fire—it will splatter and spread.
- Don’t run with a burning pan; there’s too much danger of dripping and spreading the fire or burning yourself.
- If you can’t put out the fire very quickly, yell and alert other people in the house to get out. Be sure you have an unobstructed path to an exit. Get out first, then call 911 if necessary.
Electrical and appliance fires
- If your oven—or something in it, such as the element—catches fire, close the oven door and turn off the heat source. If it doesn’t go out in a short time, use a dry chemical fire extinguisher on it, or just call 911. Do not use water.
- If a fire erupts in your microwave, keep the oven door shut and turn off the microwave. Unplug it—but only if you can do so safely.
- Never blow on flames or fan them with a towel or apron! That feeds oxygen to the fire, makes it worse, and can cause it to spread.
- If an appliance has caused a fire or burned at all because of a fire, replace it. Do not try to use it again.
DO NOT immerse a burning appliance in water! Use a dry chemical fire extinguisher, or get out of the house and call 911. If you safely can, unplug the appliance or turn off the breaker that cuts all power to the kitchen.
Flammable Object Fires
- If a small object such as a hot pad or a dishcloth catches fire, you can use a pair of tongs to drop it into the sink and douse it with water. If it’s a larger object such as a tablecloth, use a fire extinguisher.
- If a person’s clothing catches fire, employ the “stop, drop and roll” technique. You may be able to smother the fire with a fire blanket, a rug, a heavy towel or coat. Douse it with water. Call 911.
- Know how to use your fire extinguisher and fire blanket ahead of time. Study manufacturer’s instructions. A fire blanket is a safety device, usually made of fiberglass or other synthetic material, used to extinguish small fires such as pan fires by smothering the fire and depriving it of oxygen. Keep one in a handy place in the kitchen. Take a moment to watch this short video:
Though most kitchen fires are preventable, when they do happen we can be prepared by having a good supply of baking soda on hand for pan fires, by having a kitchen-sized fire extinguisher and knowing how to use it, by having a fire blanket on hand to smother difficult fires, and by keeping [BurnFree Pain Relieving Gel] on hand for minor burns.
From your experience, what other tips on kitchen fires would you offer?