How Safe is Your Kitchen from Fire?

I’m a huge proponent of installing a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, and practicing basic fire safety, as much as my wife will shake her head at me and think it’s overkill.

I think an ounce of prevention is worth its weight in gold, since odds are pretty good that at least once in your life, you will set your kitchen on fire. I’ve already done it three times, though never seriously, but I hope I’m ready when that ultimate mess-up comes around.

In 2004, the U.S. Fire Administration put out an interesting report about kitchen fires (link to PDF). Some of these stats are truly eye-opening–here are the ones that peaked my interest:

  • In 2002 (the study year), there were more than 150,000 kitchen fires in the U.S., directly responsible for killing 331 people.
  • Statistically speaking, the primary cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking, and the primary material to burn is grease/oil/fat (more than a third of fires).
  • Curiously, “misuse of material or product” is the second-biggest identifiable cause of fires.
  • 30% of structure fires started in the kitchen.
  • Kitchen fires are much more likely to injure you than a typical fire, but less likely to kill. (If you think about it, this makes perfect sense).
  • Most kitchen fires occur around 6 PM.

There are a few obvious conclusions to be had from this data:

  • Many kitchen fires are preventable by simply being mindful of your cooking and not leaving the kitchen for any reason. You stand the best chance of controlling your food and preventing ignition if you’re watching what’s going on, and the best chance of extinguishing an early fire if you’re actually in the kitchen.
  • Likewise, using equipment the way it was intended to be used is a no-brainer. If you try to get creative, you’re asking for trouble.
  • Since kitchen fires are usually confined to the cooktop, a fire extinguisher can be your best friend to prevent wide-spread injury and damage. That’s why I always have one installed in my kitchen, and it’s on the path out of the kitchen, not near the cooktop where fires are most likely to prevent access to it in an emergency.
  • Care with cooking with (and in) fats is a high priority. It’s also a good idea to know how to extinguish grease fires, which is not with water! The strategy most often recommended is cutting off the oxygen supply to the fire by covering it up (with a lid, for example) or using baking soda (or the extinguisher!).
  • Properly installing and maintaining the fire alarm system (and smoke detectors, especially) will save lives whether you were careless or, just as likely, the fire is an unexpected result of normal cooking.

The Fire Administration has another page that thoroughly explains some of the basics of fire safety for the kitchen, and outdoors areas like the grill. Here were some of the best tips I noticed that can help you with preventing kitchen fires:

  • Keep anything that is flammable away from the cooking area, including plastics and fabrics.
  • Create “kid-free” zones around kitchen equipment.
  • Keep an oven mitt and a lid nearby when cooking to cover up any flame-ups.
  • If your oven (or microwave, or toaster) catch fire, the best way to put it out is usually to keep it closed and wait.
Fire prevention doesn’t have to mean you install a restaurant-grade hood in your house. Just a little bit of thought can prevent a really bad accident from turning tragic. I encourage you to review how your kitchen operates today!

Photo by waferboard