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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Preventing House Fires - Cooking Hazards

A couple of weeks ago, the Red Cross Disaster Assistance team I belong to were having our monthly lunch meeting and discussing the scenarios under which the team had been called out. There were the occasional floodings, lightning strikes and other oddities, but kitchen fires were the main events of call out. Drilling down a bit, it seems the most common kitchen fire we responded to involved the cooking of bacon on the stove when the cook "forgot" about the frying pan and left the kitchen unattended.

It seems this is not all that uncommon. Some startling statistics:
In 2011, cooking was involved in an estimated 156,300 home structure fires that were reported to U.S. fire departments. These fires caused 470 deaths, 5,390 injuries and $1.0 billion in direct property damage. Cooking caused 43% of reported home fires, 16% of home fire deaths, 38% of home fire injuries, and 12% of the direct property damage in home fires in 2011.
Based on 2007-2011 annual averages:

- Unattended cooking was by far the leading contributing factor in these fires.
- Two-thirds (67%) of home cooking fires started with the ignition of food or other cooking materials.
- Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1% of these fires, but these incidents accounted for 15% of the cooking fire deaths.
- Ranges accounted for the largest share (57%) of home cooking fire incidents. Ovens accounted for 16%.
- More than half (55%) of reported non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occurred when the victims tried to fight the fire themselves.
- Frying poses the greatest risk of fire.
- Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires.
I suspect that Thanksgiving stat is because of the rise of deep fat frying turkeys. More about that in a minute. In the meantime, here's nice graphic from the National Fire Protection Association

Well, let's suppose you've got a nice little grease fire going on the stove, what do you do? Here are some tips from the Rocky Mountain Fire Department:
You only have a few moments to either put out a grease fire or escape the house.
Here's How:

1. DO NOT USE WATER ON A GREASE FIRE! (see Tips) Start evacuating everyone from the building. Fires spread extremely fast and can overwhelm victims in minutes. Treat burns only after evacuating the building.
2. Turn off the Burner! The fire might go out with this simple step.
3. Call 911. There's no reason to wait, Rocky Mountain Fire will be there to assist even if you manage to get the fire out.
4. The easiest way to smother a grease fire is to cover it with a pan lid. Be careful with glass lids; they can break from the extreme heat of open flame.
5. Grease fires can also be smothered with baking soda, but it takes a lot of baking soda to do the trick. Unless the baking soda is easily accessible, it's usually easier to quickly find a lid.
6. A dry chemical fire extinguisher will also work, but it will contaminate your kitchen and food. Class K fire extinguishers are available to put out grease and other kitchen fires, but they are usually only found in commercial kitchens.
7. A newly developed fire extinguishing spray is now available. Highly effective on common household fires including grease fires. Dispensed from a common aerosol spray can.


- DO NOT PUT WATER ON A GREASE FIRE! This can not be stressed enough. Pouring water on burning grease or oil will not extinguish the fire. It will only cause the burning oil to splash, spreading the grease fire around.
- DO NOT TRY TO CARRY THE FIRE OUTSIDE! Trying to carry a pot or pan full of burning oil will just slosh and splash the grease fire.
- Treat burns only after the fire is contained or the building is completely evacuated. Call 911 if a serious burn is experienced.
- If clothes are caught on fire; STOP, DROP, and ROLL to extinguish them.
Why not put water on a grease fire? As everyone knows who has attended any kind of fire fighting school:

Don't use flour or sugar to try to extinguish a fire!

And, if you are going to deep fat fry turkeys, well, be very, very careful:

Probably not a good thing to do after having a "few" beers.

Pay attention to your cooking. 156,000 homes and 400+ lives lost to preventable fires is a disaster.

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