Would you know what to do if a fire broke out on your stovetop?
For most people, the answer is “no”, which is probably why cooking fires are the leading cause of house fires in the United States. And although very common, stovetop cooking fires are quite preventable.
Causes of Stove Fires
- Leaving cooking unattended. Smoke can turn into fire in less than 30 seconds, so just leaving the room for a few seconds could be dangerous.
- When cooking, wearing clothes such as scarves, and bathrobes or tops with long, loose-fitting sleeves that can easily catch fire.
- Keeping flammable items (oven mitts, curtains, dish towels, wooden utensils, etc.) near the stovetop.
- Cooking while under the influence of alcohol.
- Children playing near the stove during cooking.
- Cooking while distracted or tired.
- Putting frozen food into hot grease before removing as much moisture from it as possible.
- Heating oil too quickly.
- Heating oil beyond the recommended temperature, and not using a thermometer for monitoring.
- Adding food too quickly and carelessly into hot oil, causing splatter.
Traditional coil element stoves are much hotter than induction stoves, ceramic cooktop, or gas stoves, and cause the largest number of fires. They can reach temperatures in excess of 1292°F (700°C), while natural gas can produce an open flame that reaches a temperature of nearly1112°F (600°C). Ceramic cooktops (smoothtops) attain a lower cooking surface temperature of approximately 932°F (500°C), and induction cooktops reach around 500°F (260°C) maximum.
These element temperatures can far exceed the ignition temperature of cooking oils and household materials found in most kitchens. When these oils and materials are heated beyond their ignition temperatures, or accidentally come in contact with a hot element, they’ll burst into flames.
Here are the ignition temperatures for typical oils and household materials:
- Cooking oils (corn, olive, cotton seed, palm, peanut, soybean)
- Natural plant fibers (cotton, hemp, jute, linen, sisal, etc.)
- Natural protein fibers (wool, mohair, cashmere, camel hair, etc.)
- Various woods
How to Put Out a Stovetop Fire
- Cover the flames with a metal lid or cookie sheet, and immediately turn off the heat. Fire can’t exist without oxygen. Leave the cover on for at least 20 minutes. Removing the lid too soon can cause the fire to re-ignite.
- If the fire is small and manageable, smother it with baking soda or salt.
- If your clothing catches fire, stop, drop and roll (in a kitchen rug if possible).
- Use a fire extinguisher. Stay back 4 to 6 feet and aim directly at the base of the fire. Standing too close can drive the oil up the wall and onto the stove.
- If the fire has spread beyond the stovetop, get everyone out of the house. Close doors behind you to contain the flames, then call 911 when you’re a safe distance from the fire.
What NOT to Do
- Don’t use water to put out a grease fire — it will make the fire spread and could create a fireball.
- Don’t use a wet dish towel, as it will make the situation worse by pushing flames out the back of the pan or pot and up the wall.
- Never use baking powder or flour instead of baking soda or salt. They’re not as heavy and are combustible.
- Don’t use anything glass or plastic to smother the fire. Glass will heat up and shatter, and plastic will melt.
- Don’t move the pot or carry it outside. You might splash burning oil on you, parts of your home, and on anything outdoors.
- Always keep an easily accessible metal lid or cookie sheet near the stove when cooking.
- Keep baking soda or salt nearby to smother small fires.
- Store a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
- Keep a working smoke detector in your kitchen on the ceiling, or high on the wall, at least 10 feet away from the stove to minimize false alarms.
- Clean cooking surfaces, walls and other areas around the stove to prevent food and grease build-up.
- When cooking, turn pan handles inward to prevent food spills.
- Don’t store solvents and flammable cleaners near the stove.
- For gas stovetops, use the right size pot, and don’t let the flame flare up around the pot.
- Don’t allow food to boil over on gas burners. The flame could go out with the gas still on, increasing the potential for a fire or explosion.
- Turn burners completely off immediately after use.
- Don’t allow a pot to boil dry on the stove.
- Institute a “kid-free-zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove while cooking.
- Keep the oil at the recommended temperature. If you see wisps of smoke, or the oil smells, turn down the heat immediately, or remove the pot or pan completely from the burner. The smoke is a danger sign that the oil is on its way to igniting.
- Never use your electric or gas stove to heat the room.
Fire extinguishers are classed by type, based on what’s fueling the fire. Here’s a list of the different types of fire extinguishers:
- Class A — ordinary combustibles, such as wood, paper, cloth, trash, and plastics.
- Class B — flammable liquids, such as grease, gasoline and oil.
- Class C — electrical equipment, such as motors, transformers, and appliances.
- Class D — combustible metals, such as potassium, sodium, aluminum, and magnesium.
- Class K — cooking oils and greases, such as animal and vegetable fats.
Some extinguishers can be used on more than one class of fire, while others are only for specific fire types. For example, water and foam extinguishers are for class A fires only, while ordinary dry chemical extinguishers are used for both for B and C fires.
Most extinguishers sold for kitchen use are BC units, which discharge a sodium bicarbonate–based mix that’s easy to clean up. Kidde manufactures a special purpose kitchen range fire extinguisher for residential cooking equipment, such as pots, skillets, and griddles.
Class K fire extinguishers are wet chemical units used in restaurant and other commercial kitchens for cooking oil and grease fires. However, some home owners have started to buy these for their kitchens, especially if they use deep fryers. These fire extinguishers are more expensive than your typical residential units, but are very effective, capping the oil and fat with a soapy crust to prevent re-ignition.
There’s also a device for homes called the Stovetop Firestop, which is like a fire extinguisher in a can. Each cannister has a magnet that clamps it to the stove’s metal range hood. If your stove doesn’t have a hood, you can use a mounting kit. One pair of cannisters will protect a four-burner stove. When flames from the stovetop reach the fuse on the bottom of the cannister, it breaks open, and dumps a fire-suppressing powder onto the fire.
Here’s to happy and safe cooking!
When you want the very best in appliance repair and maintenance, call C&W Appliance Service at (855) 358-1496 or (214) 358-1496.