If you can't take the heat ...

  • Published
  • By Tim Johnston
  • 30th Civil Engineer Squadron fire prevention
We all need to eat to live, but when it comes to cooking, starvation isn't the only challenge to survival.

Cooking fires accounted for one-fourth of all civilian fire injuries in home fires reported to U.S. fire departments in 2008. These fires ranked sixth as a cause of home fire deaths and fifth as a cause of property damage. Cooking equipment fires were the leading cause of reported home fires and of civilian injuries in those fires.

In 2008, 97,400 home cooking fires in the United States caused 279 civilian deaths, 4,735 civilian injuries and $358 million in property damage.

Cooking fires also account for the majority of unreported home fires. The most recent study of such fires estimated that kitchen-cooking equipment accounts for 12,344,000 unreported fires a year, or 55.3 percent of all unreported fires. This works out to about one kitchen cooking fire for every eight occupied housing units in the United States per year. The unreported kitchen fires result in more than 640,000 injuries and illnesses per year.

What causes the fires?

Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home range fires, no matter what type of stove or oven is used. For gas-fueled stoves and ovens, fuel leaks cause more than five percent of the fires. And for electric and portable devices, short circuits cause more than five percent of the fires.

What were people doing?

An estimated 72 percent of those injured in home cooking fires were awake and unimpaired at the time of the fire. However, only 25 percent of those who died in home cooking fires were awake or unimpaired at the time of the fire. In fact, 42 percent of the people who died in these fires were asleep when the fire started. Drugs or alcohol impaired another 15 percent.

Nearly two of every five home cooking fire deaths occur between midnight and 6 a.m., even though nearly one-half of home cooking fires occur between 3 and 9 p.m.

More than half of those injured in home cooking fires in the past five years were trying to extinguish the fire when they were hurt.

How to prevent a cooking fire

First, never leave cooking unattended. Turn all pot handles inward while cooking. Keep kids away from the stove and oven when cooking. Clean cooking equipment regularly to keep it debris and grease free. Prevent boil-overs by not overfilling pots. Use recommended temperatures instead of increasing the heat to reduce cooking times.
And keep all combustibles away from the cooking surfaces.

Don't plug too many appliances into an electrical outlet, especially heat producing appliances. And keep heat-producing appliances away from walls and curtains. If an electrical appliance gets wet inside, have it serviced before using it again. Never use cooking equipment for something its not made for, such as heating a room.

Always use fresh oil when cooking. Lower food into oil with utensils, don't just drop it in. And use a burner that's the appropriate size for the pan being used.

What to do if with a cooking fire or burns

If oil ignites while cooking, don't throw water on the fire. Don't try moving the pan either. Turn the burner off and smother the fire with a pan lid. If this doesn't work, leave the house and call the fire department.

If there's a fire in a microwave oven, close the door to the microwave and unplug it. Don't use the microwave again until it's been serviced.

If someone gets burned, run cool water over the affected area for 10 to 15 minutes to minimize skin damage and ease the pain. Never apply butter or other grease to a burn. If the skin is charred, see a doctor immediately.

And if clothes catch on fire while cooking, remember to stop, drop, and roll.

For questions concerning this article or any other fire safety question, call the fire prevention office at 606-4680.