Kitchen Fires…How to Prevent Them and How to Stop Them Once They’ve Started

Now, as we get closer to the holidays, families will begin to gather together to share meals and spend time with each other.

Sadly, however, of the most preventable causes of house fires – kitchen fires –  also happens during the holidays, turning a joyous time into one of sorrow and grief.

Fast facts about kitchen fires:

  • ⬥ Kitchen fires can happen every day of the year. Statistics show that “Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.”
  • ⬥ Cook-tops or ranges are responsible for 58% of kitchen fires; ovens for 16%.
  • ⬥ Electric ranges are more dangerous than gas. Gas burners can be seen (or you can smell the gas) but electric burners can stay hot for a while after you turn them off.

How Most Kitchen Fires Start

Cooking fires are very often the result of inattentiveness.

Multi-tasking while cooking is not a good idea…one-third of cooking fires are the result of unattended cooking. The number one source of kitchen fires is from cooking oil or grease catching fire.

If you’re frying in an open pan – as most people do – the surrounding oxygen only serves to intensify the fire once it begins. And the more intense the fire gets, the more easily it spreads to nearby surfaces.

Types of kitchen fires (and how to deal with them)

Grease fires

Grease fires are unlike other types of fires. You may have heard that you absolutely MUST NOT pour water on a grease fire. 

But have you ever wondered why?

We all know that water and oil don’t mix, but this simple principle really comes into play when dealing with grease fires. 

When you add water to a pan filled with grease the water and oil separate, with water going to the bottom of the pan. Then, because the pan is still hot the water begins to boil, pushing the oil out of the pan and splattering hot grease – and fire – everywhere!

To do:

Always keep a lid, a potholder and an oven mitt close to hand when you’re cooking.  If the grease catches fire don’t slam the lid down on it. Instead, slide the lid into place and let the fire smother itself out.

Turn the burner off and let the pan cool right where it sits. Wait until the pan has completely cooled before lifting the lid.

Oven fires

Oven fires can be caused by several different things:

  • ⬥ Lack of cleaning – built-up grease allowing foods to catch fire
  • ⬥ Improper use – e.g. using the oven as a heater
  • ⬥ Malfunction – the oven is old, poorly maintained and/or damaged

To do:

Close the oven door immediately and turn it off. Call the fire department if the fire doesn’t go out within a few minutes. Don’t use it again until it’s been looked at and cleared for use.

Microwave fires

Yes, microwaves can be dangerous. Fires can often occur from metal, paper, plates with metal trim, and some types of plastic being used to heat foods. 

Even some foods can cause a fire such as hot peppers or grapes.

To do:

Close the microwave door. Keep it closed and turn it off. Unplug it if possible. Don’t use it again until you’ve had it checked out.

Fire extinguishers

Every home should have an easily accessible fire extinguisher – that works on any type of fire – in their kitchen. Make sure every family member (who can handle it) knows where it’s at.

To use it on a fire do the following:

  • ⬥ Remove the pin
  • ⬥ Aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire, not the top of the flames.
  • ⬥ Hold it by the handle and press on the lever to release the retardant, let go when you want to stop the flow. Use a back and forth motion (horizontally) until the fire is extinguished.

If you don’t have anything to use on the fire you can throw baking soda on it to smother it, but it could take several boxes to get the flames out. 

Never, however, use flour, because it will only feed the flames.

Tips for cooking with oil

  • ⬥ Never leave the kitchen unattended when frying on your stovetop.
  • ⬥ If you see the slightest bit of smoke or the oil smells turn off the burner and carefully remove the pan…smoke is a signal that your oil is too hot.
  • ⬥ Heat the oil slowly until it reaches temperature
  • ⬥ Ease food into the pan gently to avoid splattering grease onto the burner (or yourself!)
  • ⬥ Keep any flammable items such as potholders or towels away from the stove and avoid wearing any loose sleeves that can easily catch fire.