Uptick in Kitchen and Grease Fires
Last winter, we posted an article on common types of fires we see in the winter. Well, since the outbreak of Covid-19, kitchen and grease fires have become the most common type of fire we encounter. I suppose it makes sense. With the social distancing and stay-at-home guidelines in place in Utah and Idaho, we’ve all been spending more time indoors. That means we’ve been cooking more indoors. Cooking is where kitchen and grease fires always start. It seems natural we’d be seeing more.
We’ve been seeing enough that we decided it would be a good idea to talk about it. So, here’s our safety tips for dealing with kitchen and grease fires.
General Safety Tip
The best way to deal with a grease fire is to avoid having one in the first place. Kitchen and grease fires are easily preventable fires if you follow some basic precautions.
First, never leave your stove or oven on. Many times, when we have to respond to these fires, the story is the same: the homeowner turned on the stove or oven, then walked away to do something else. While working on other things, they forgot the oven and whatever they were cooking caught fire. If you aren’t going to stay near enough to the oven that you can see it, don’t start cooking. If you do have to leave the room, make sure you set a timer to remind that you’re cooking so you don’t forget. If you have a new oven, check it regularly the first few times you use it so you can get use to its cooking temperatures. This will go a long way to keeping a fire from starting.
The second piece of advice is to always know what the appropriate temperature is for what you’re cooking. Every cooking appliance is a little different, so you can’t trust a recipe’s instructions to be 100% accurate. If you set the temperature too high, whatever you’re cooking can catch fire before the cooking time on the recipe runs out. Grease is especially vulnerable to this, so if you’re cooking something in grease, be sure you watch it very carefully.
What Not To Do
Kitchen and grease fires extremely dangerous because of how quickly they can get out of hand. It can be very easy to injure yourself if you panic. Here are some things you should never do.
NEVER USE WATER! This is the most common mistake. People think water puts out fires, but that isn’t true. What puts out fire is starving them for oxygen and fuel. Water can smother a fire, but it doesn’t automatically put it out. If your have a pan full of burning grease, what will happen instead is the water will splash the grease all over. It will get on the counter, on the floor, and probably on you. Grease burns hot and sticks to your skin, so if you splash burning grease on you, it will cause severe burns.
Do not use a wet towel. A wet towel is often a good idea for smothering small fires of other kinds, but just as with using water, you’re more likely to splash burning grease out of the pan. Even worse, you may knock the pan off the stove, spilling the burning grease all over everything in your kitchen, including yourself!
Do not attempt to take a burning pot or pan outside. A lot of people do this thinking to protect the inside of their house from the fire, but this actually does just the opposite. Rushing the pan out of the house in a panic is sure to spill burning grease. If you don’t get it on yourself (OUCH!), you’ll definitely get it on the floor. That’s just as bad as spilling it in the kitchen, only now, you’re instead spilling it on a carpeted floor. The carpet will light up like a Christmas tree and then your whole house is in danger.
What You Should Do
1. Turn Off The Heat Source
Fires need energy to burn, which comes from heat. This is basic physics. The first thing you should do if you have a grease fire is to cut off the heat. If you can do this safely, do it immediately. Just remember, oil and grease are slow to cool once they start burning, so this won’t put the fire out immediately. What you need to do next is:
2. Smother It With A Pot Lid
A grease fire needs heat and oxygen to burn. Take a metal pot lid and place it over the fire. As the fire burns, it consumes the oxygen, spewing out carbon dioxide. As the oxygen runs out, the flames will go out because there isn’t enough for the chemical reaction to burn.
Do not remove the pot lid, even if it looks like the fire has stopped. The flames will die out as soon as the oxygen runs out, but the oil will still be really hot. If you remove the lid, more oxygen will flow into the grease and it may catch fire again. You must wait for the oil to completely cool before you can remove the lid. If you don’t have a pot lid on hand, a cookie sheet may work, but this is not a perfect option. They don’t fit pots perfectly and may still allow oxygen to get in, but it’s better than nothing.
Do not use a glass pot lid for this. Glass is fragile and breaks easily. The heat and pressure from the gas build up can cause the lid to crack, or even shatter. Then, not only do you still have the grease fire, but your kitchen is full of broken glass!
3. Smother It With Baking Soda
If the grease fire is very small, baking soda can be a good agent to smother it. You should keep some baking soda on hand for this purpose.
This only works for very small grease fires, though. It takes a lot of baking soda to smother the fire, so if the fire is too big, it won’t work. Take note that there is a difference between baking soda and baking powder. It’s the chemical structure of baking soda that works, so other powders that look the same won’t do the job.
4. Use A Class B Fire Extinguisher
If you don’t spot the grease fire quick enough, the flames can grow very high and very hot. This is why you should never leave your stove unattended. The flames can quickly get too hot to approach. If this happens, you can’t risk turning off the stove, or putting a lid down. What do you do? Use a fire extinguisher.
While water doesn’t work, there are fire extinguishers specifically designed for grease fires. Class B fire extinguishers are that type: they use a pair of different chemicals to put the fire out. One chemical will smother the fire, another will produce a chemical reaction that helps put out the flames faster. Keep one in your kitchen at all times. If you can’t get close to the fire without it burning you, pull it down off the wall and spray away. When the flames are out, quickly turn the power off and then place the pot lid over the top.
If you don’t have one, you should get one.
5. Call The Fire Department
Grease fires can very quickly go out of control. Studies estimate that you have between 30 seconds and 1 minute to get the fire out before it gets too big to control. Once you’ve done the above steps, whether or not the fire is still burning, it’s a good idea to call the fire department. Even if it looks like the fire has gone out, grease fires can easily restart if certain conditions occur. To be safe and ensure minimal damage to yourself and your home, you’ll want the experts to come in and make sure everything is safe before you attempt to move anything.
We’re not firemen and we’re not trained to put out fires, so be sure to call the firemen first. Once you’ve got the fire out, though, we can help you with cleaning up. If you do take the right steps, you can keep kitchen fires from causing serious damage to your house, but there’s probably going to be some damage. Hot, high flames will char the ceiling. The pans will be seriously scorched. Spilled grease may cause damage to your floor. Even if you avoid all visible damage, there’s still the lingering smell of smoke – especially if the fire was burning protein.
We can help you out with all of this. As experts in fire damage restoration, we have the tools and skills needed to clean up and repair any fire damage your house and possessions receive. While some things will need replacing (the pan is most likely not going to survive), our customers are often surprised by just how many things we can save.
Once the fire department gives the all clear and you’re certain everybody is safe, give us a call. We’ll send someone over to assess the damage and tell you what you need to do to get things back on track. We’ll even work with your insurance agency to help you get the best deal possible! When we’re done, we promise you won’t even have the lingering smell of smoke to remind you that the fire ever happened.