Why is cooking fire safety so important? Isn't it pretty much a matter of common sense?

Cooking fire safety is very important because cooking-related fires continue to be a leading cause of fires in people's homes. In most cases, kitchen fires involve stoves, ovens, appliances, or electrical malfunctions and hazards. Also, the kitchen is the location where most scald burns occur. While it's true that a great many fires, burns, and other cooking accidents are prevented by using plain old common sense, awareness of the common causes of cooking fires is the first step toward establishing firesafe habits in the kitchen and prevention of costly fires and burn injuries. Additionally, sometimes even the most careful people get distracted or become careless due to stress, fatigue, alcohol consumption, the influence of drugs that cause drowsiness, and other factors, which, unfortunately, is when fires and accidents most often occur.

What are the most common types of fires that firefighters see involving stoves and ovens?

Despite some more obvious causes, placement of combustibles on or next to the stove area is a leading cause of these fires. Another tragic cause of stove and oven fire incidents involves flammable liquids such as cleaners and solvents used for various repairs and remodeling jobs. Pilot lights and burners on gas stoves and these types of flammables are a volatile combination! One of the more obvious causes is overheated fats and cooking oils, often resulting from the cook's becoming distracted and leaving the kitchen for a period of time. Finally, another frequent cause of cooking fires involves people leaving food cooking on the stove and then retiring, taking a nap or a phone call, or simply leaving the premises altogether.

What is the best way to extinguish a fire on the stove or in an oven?

The best way to put out a fire in a pan on the stove is to simply turn off the heat and clap a lid on it. Then, leave it in place for at least one-half hour. If you don't have a lid handy, a larger pan will do just as well. In the event that you do not have ready access to a lid or a larger pan, turn off the heat and use a multipurpose portable fire extinguisher or baking soda (nothing else). Remember, do not move the pan for at least one-half hour!

Oven or broiler fires call for similar extinguishing measures. First, DO NOT open the oven or broiler door! If you see flames lapping out the top, sides, or bottom, turn off the heat and use a portable multipurpose fire extinguisher or baking soda to extinguish them. When the fire has been extinguished, leave the door closed for at least one-half hour.

Some people seem to think it's okay to put flour or salt on a grease or fat fire in a pan on the stove. Is this extinguishing method acceptable to the Fire Department?

No! The only acceptable extinguishing agents for these types of fires (flammable liquids) are either a dry chemical fire extinguisher or baking soda (NOT baking powder!). The finer the particles the more explosive the reaction when they combine with fire. Water is not effective on this type of fire because when it hits the flaming liquid it generates little explosions of steam and hot liquid and then floats on top of the oil or grease. On these types of fires, the dry chemicals in the fire extinguisher or baking soda will act on the flaming liquid to "starve" the fire of the air it needs to continue burning. Water acts as a cooling agent to remove the heat that fires involving ordinary combustibles (i.e., wood, paper, cloth, plastic, cardboard, etc.) need to burn; however, it will not extinguish flammable liquid fires).

SPECIAL CAUTION: Never turn on an overhead fan during a grease fire! The fire and smoke would be carried through the vent and set the whole building on fire!

What other safe cooking tips can the Fire Department offer us besides those already given?

  • Don't leave coffee makers on if leaving the house for work, shopping, etc.
  • Don't store food in the oven for any reason.
  • Don't attempt to dry combustibles in the oven or use it for heating rather than cooking purposes.
  • Don't store cookbooks and other combustibles at the top, sides, or rear of a microwave oven. They may obstruct proper ventilation of the appliance and cause a fire.
  • Do turn pot and pan handles inward towards the center of the stove.
  • Don't use dish towels to remove food from the oven. Do use only pot holders or oven mitts for this purpose.
  • Don't leave food cooking on the stove if leaving the premises.
  • Don't leave burners on under empty pots or pans.
  • When cooking on gas stoves, use the lowest flame possible to get the job done.
  • Keep the cooking area free of things that will burn such as pot holders, towels, plastic utensils and other items, paper napkins and towels, match boxes, styrofoam cups, plates, etc.
  • Don't allow deposits of grease, dust, and other grime to accumulate in the cooking area. Keep it clean at all times.
  • Avoid the use of extension cords and overloading of electrical outlets.
  • Don't cook while wearing loose, flowing clothing that could "drag" through the cooking area.
  • Call the Gas Company immediately whenever you smell a gas leak.
  • Remember that burners and/or pilot lights should be extinguished before performing kitchen repairs and renovations that involve the use of paints, thinners, contact cement, spot removers, de-greasers, spray paints, and all other flammable or combustible liquids.
  • Don't use aerosol cans and sprays in the vicinity of the cooking area.
  • Don't permit little children to play in the kitchen while cooking is being done.