Learn how to prevent cooking fires like a head chef

22 Jun 2006 | Lance Cpl. Brandon R. Holgersen

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries in the United States, but there are a few simple steps that will help prevent these dangerous fires to keep everyone safe.

“In 2002 alone, cooking-related fires caused an estimated 185,600 structure fires, 80 civilians deaths, 3,875 injuries and $481 million in property damage in the U.S.,” said Glenn Zurek, assistant chief of fire prevention, Base Fire Department.

Cooking fires are preventable, according to Zurek. There are several straightforward and easy steps you can follow to prevent cooking-related fires and protect yourself.

Residential occupants should control and monitor their cooking and heat sources continuously, according to Zurek. Try and avoid being distracted by the television or the telephone.

“Food cooking unattended is the leading factor contributing to cooking fires,” Zurek said.

People should be especially careful when cooking with oil, butter, alcohol, or greasy foods that are highly flammable and can easily splatter or spill, because they are more likely to start a fire. Oil, fat and grease are the leading food items that become ignited while cooking, according to Zurek

Do not attempt to extinguish grease or oil based fires with water, said Zurek. It will react violently when poured on hot grease or oil. Small grease fires can be extinguished by placing a lid over the pan or smothering the fire with baking soda.

Often the fire starts within the first 15 minutes of cooking, showing that there is no safe period of time to leave cooking food unattended, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

It is also is important to be aware of the clothing worn while cooking, according to Zurek. Loose fitting, long-sleeved clothing should not be worn, as the cloth may ignite and potentially cause serious injuries.

It is also important to make sure combustible items, such as rags, pot holders, curtains and bags are kept far from the cooking surfaces, according to NFPA.

Safety equipment is very helpful when trying to prevent or reduce the damage of a cooking fire, according to Zurek.

“Fire extinguishers should be within easy reach of both aspiring and seasoned cooks,” said Zurek.

The proper use of a fire extinguisher can prevent small fires from spreading and are especially effective on fires, which should not be extinguished by water, such as grease fires. Extinguishers should be checked on a monthly basis.

Smoke alarms should be installed and kept operating properly. Smoke alarms are easy to maintain and are an effective way of detecting fires, according to Zurek. Smoke detectors should be tested on a monthly basis and the batteries changed every six months.

For questions on fire safety call the Fire and Emergency Services Division, Fire Prevention Branch at 451-3320.

“Your overall awareness will help prevent a fire from occurring while cooking with various heat producing equipment located in and out of the kitchen,” Zurek said.