Thousands of families lose their homes and, unfortunately, sometimes their lives, to house fires every year.
As tragic as this is, it is doubly so when it is due to something that could have been prevented.
In the coming weeks, families will begin to assemble to share meals and spend time together as the holidays approach.
A sad truth is, however, that one of the most preventable causes of house fires – kitchen fires – occurs during the holidays as well, turning a joyous time into a time of sorrow and grief.
Kitchen fire facts:
- ⬥ On any given day of the year, a kitchen fire can occur. Home cooking fires are at their peak on Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
- ⬥ A cooktop or range is responsible for 58% of kitchen fires; ovens for 16%.
- ⬥ There is a greater risk associated with electric ranges than with gas ranges. Gas burners are visible (or the gas can be smelled), but electric burners can stay hot after you turn them off.
Most kitchen fires start this way
Inattentiveness is often to blame for cooking fires.
One third of cooking fires are caused by unattended cooking. The most common cause of kitchen fires is a grease or oil fire.
When you fry in an open pan – as most people do – the surrounding oxygen only serves to intensify the fire once it gets started. The more intense the fire becomes, the easier it is for it to spread to nearby surfaces.
Kitchen fire types (and what to do about them)
Fires caused by grease are different from other types of fires. A grease fire MUST NOT be extinguished with water.
But did you ever wonder why?
It’s common knowledge that water and oil don’t mix, but this fact really comes into play when dealing with grease fires.
Water separates from oil when added to grease in a pan, with the water sinking to the bottom. Because the pan is still hot, when the water begins to boil the oil spouts out, spreading fire and hot grease everywhere!
Make sure you always have a lid, potholder, and oven mitt close at hand when you’re cooking.
Don’t slam the lid down on grease that catches fire. Slide the lid over the fire and let it smother itself.
Turn off the burner and let the pan cool on its own. Make sure the pan is completely cool before lifting the lid.
Several things can cause an oven fire:
- ⬥ Lack of cleaning – grease builds up, causing foods to catch fire
- ⬥ Improper use – for example, using the oven as a heater
- ⬥ Malfunction – the oven is worn out, poorly maintained, or damaged
Close the oven door and turn it off immediately. If the fire doesn’t go out in a few minutes, call the fire department. Until it has been examined and cleared for use, don’t use it again.
Even microwaves can be dangerous. Metal, paper, metal-trimmed plates and some types of plastic have been known to catch fire while being heated.
It is even possible to ignite fires with some foods, such as hot peppers or grapes.
Shut the microwave door. Turn it off and keep it closed. If possible, unplug the microwave. Do not use it again until you have it checked.
There should be a fire extinguisher in every kitchen that can extinguish all types of fires. Each member of your family (who is able to handle it) needs to know where it is.
Use it on a fire as follows:
- ⬥ Remove the pin
- ⬥ Make sure you aim the extinguisher at the base of the fire, not the top.
- ⬥ Press the lever to release the retardant, then let go to stop the flow. Extinguish the fire by going back and forth (horizontally) until it is extinguished.
You can use baking soda to smother the fire if you don’t have anything else, but it might take several boxes to do the job.
Never use flour, however, as it will only feed the flames.
Tips for cooking with oil
- ⬥ Don’t leave your stove top unattended when you’re frying.
- ⬥ Smoke is a signal that your oil is too hot, so turn off the burner if you see any smoke or the oil smells.
- ⬥ Bring the oil to a temperature by slowly heating it
- ⬥ Gently place food into the pan to avoid splattering grease onto the burner (or yourself!)
- ⬥ Do not wear loose sleeves that can easily catch fire and don’t keep potholders or towels close to the stove.