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Kitchen Fires Are Too Common, and Very Dangerous

In my blog post of July 5, I wrote about a restaurant fire that was caused by careless preparation by a waiter of a dessert that uses fire for visual effect. The result was two burned patrons, with one of them suffering serious third-degree burns.

But even at home, many tasks involved in cooking can be very dangerous, and you must pay attention to safety whenever you are using heat in the kitchen. Consider this: Back in late May, a man in Granby, NY, was seriously burned when he tossed meat into a hot pan. The local fire chief said that the man simply made an absent-minded decision to toss the meat into the pan from a foot or so away, and this caused a flare-up of flames that engulfed him. The man was rushed to Upstate University Hospital in Syracuse with second- and third-degree burns to his face, hands, arms and back.

Then in mid-June, a Las Vegas woman was treated for smoke inhalation and a firefighter suffered a minor injury during a kitchen fire that caused $75,000 in damage. Firefighters responded to a townhouse complex to fight this fire, which started after the woman put a pan of cooking oil on the stove top to heat up, but then got distracted by a phone call.

After the smoke alarms alerted her to the fire, the woman saw that the flames had risen up to the fan above the stove–and into the air ducts. The duct work for the stove’s exhaust fan ran into the ceiling, then into a wall between two downstairs condos, and across the length of the building to an outside vent. The fire spread almost instantly through those ducts because they gave fresh oxygen to the fire, which is bad.

The woman was able to warn neighbors and call 911. But smoke and flames ran through the ducts and set the wood on fire in the space between the upstairs and downstairs units, causing damage to three additional units, officials said. The two downstairs units sustained heavy fire and smoke damage, estimated at $30,000 for each unit. An upstairs unit sustained about $5,000 in damage and another unit incurred $10,000 in damage. Nine people were displaced from their apartments. And the woman had to be treated for smoke inhalation.

With kitchen fires, many people don’t know how to properly extinguish them. Grease fires are actually spread and made larger by water. So the correct way to stop such fires is with a fire extinguisher containing foam or another non-water chemical, or with a damp rag placed over the fire to starve it of oxygen.

Also, many people underestimate how quickly smoke can build up and injure or kill them right in their kitchen. If a fire becomes larger than the pan it started in, it is safest to leave the room, get out of the house, dial 911, and alert the neighbors about the fire.

Lastly, it is critical to keep kids out of the kitchen when cooking. The reason: Kids are curious. They move around quickly and unpredictably, and sometimes they even think to pull on a pot handle while it is on the stove. So if you want to make sure that a child does not get severely burned or start a fire, keep them out of the kitchen while you cook!