While the impact of forest fires on residential communities has received a lot of press over the last couple of years, cooking is consistently the leading cause of (determined) home fires and fire related injuries in British Columbia.
This risk grows with the arrival of autumn and winter and all of the festivities that come with the two seasons. Studies show that Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by December 24th and 25th. Long story short, you’re going to be spending a lot more time hovering over the stove in the weeks ahead and will have to be more diligent than ever. Thankfully, most kitchen fires are entirely preventable, and as BC’s preferred homeowners insurance broker Park is here with some helpful advice on how to extinguish the threat.
Top 10 Common Causes of Household Kitchen Fires and How to Prevent Them
1. Flammables Near Elements and Open Flames
Kitchen counters are typically full of flammables. These items must be kept away from the cooking area at all times. Hand towels, paper towel holders, napkins, cleaning rags, food packaging, wooden utensils, fabric oven mitts, cookbooks, and recipe cards should never be adjacent to the stovetop.
2. Frying with Oil
Frying food is a leading cause of kitchen fires due to the use of oil and resulting fires that are fast spreading. If you must fry with oil, take note of the following precautions:
- Don’t deep fry by heating oil in a pot. Instead, invest in a thermostatically-controlled deep fryer.
- Pan fry in a thermostatically-controlled electric skillet.
- Use only enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Pan-fried food should not be submerged in oil or grease. Alternatively, switch to a non-stick cooking spray and apply a light coat before frying.
When done cooking, clean the cooking area and adjacent counters so that there is no oil and grease residue/splatter left on any surface. Failure to do so sets the stage for fire the next time you cook.
In the event that a pan fire does occur, do not use water to extinguish it, as this will cause the fire to spread. Instead, put on your safety mitts, slide a lid (not glass) on the pot to smother the flames and immediately turn off the element.
3. Setting the Cooking Temperature Too High
The National Fire Protection Association credits the ignition of food as being the culprit for nearly two-thirds of kitchen fires. Whether frying, baking, or broiling, leave yourself with enough time to cook so that you don’t need to crank up the stove or oven temperature. Preheat exactly as the recipe calls for, and when using a gas stove, never let the flame rise over the pan. This may require some patience when someone in the household is getting hit with hunger pangs, but in the end it will help reduce the risk of cooking fires.
4. Walking Away from an Open Flame or Heated Element
Never turn your back on the kitchen when frying food on the stove, especially when you have a gas burner with an open flame. Resist the urge to multitask by doing the laundry or other chores that have you leave the kitchen.
In addition, don’t let household entertainment distract from your duties in the kitchen. If you’re watching HBO with guests, put Game of Thrones on pause until the food is ready. After all, taking your eyes off of the stove to see what Daenerys Targaryen’s dragons are up to can bring a much worse fire into your home.
5. Faulty Appliances
If you’re cooking with old appliances, you could be increasing the risk of fire. While a given range, stove, or oven may appear to be in working order, less evident internal damage can cause it to overheat or spark an electrical fire. If it has passed the ten year mark then it’s time for an inspection and repair where needed. As a rule of thumb, if repairs add up to more than 50 percent of the cost of a new unit, it is time to consider a new appliance.
6. Loose Fitting Clothing
What you wear in the kitchen can have a big impact on the risk of fire and personal injury. Loose fitting clothing can result in close contact with burner flames and red-hot elements, and depending upon the fabric, can quickly ignite. Lose the loose fitting clothing and when wearing an apron be sure to keep it tied with the drawstrings fastened at the back.
7. Cooking While Tired
Cooking while fatigued is dangerous because your cognitive abilities are hampered, and you may forget to turn off the oven or stove. Don’t stumble out of bed and straight into the kitchen to get the kids’ breakfast ready. Instead, splash water on your face, brush your teeth, and whatever else you need to do to refresh your mind and body before cooking in the early AM. In addition, avoid cooking late at night. If you must prepare food for the next day, do so at least three hours before bedtime, which also leaves you plenty of time to notice that you may have left the stove or oven on after cooking.
8. Cooking While Impaired
Cooking under the influence (CUI?) has consequences. Your physical and cognitive performance levels will be impaired and you will exercise less caution with respect to all of the above. This is not to say that you can’t enjoy a glass of wine while cooking, just don’t sample too much of the goods when making your famous pan-seared steak with cognac sauce, until it’s ready.
9. Too Many Cooks in the Kitchen
This truism applies to fire prevention too. A busy kitchen is not just messy one, it increases the risk of accidents that can lead to fire. Close quarters can have someone attempt to squeeze passed the cook and inadvertently knock over a frying pan. Tell family and guests ahead of time that they should get what they need out of the fridge or pantry before you start cooking because once you do, the “No Trespassing” sign is up until dinner is served.
10. Not Having a Kitchen Appropriate Fire Extinguisher
You should keep a fire extinguisher near the cooking area, but not just any kind will do. For instance, water, dry, and foam fire extinguishers are not appropriate for the kitchen environment. Instead, you need a UL Rated 5-B:C extinguisher. The B and C ratings are the key. A Class B fire extinguisher is used for flammable liquid and gas fires such as cooking oil. They deprive the fire of oxygen and interrupt the fire chain by inhibiting the release of combustible vapors. A Class C fire extinguisher is used on fires that involve live electrical equipment (such as an electrical kitchen appliance) which require the use of electrically nonconductive extinguishing agents. The “5” refers to square footage. Therefore, an extinguisher with a UL Rating of 5B:C would be able to extinguish 5 square feet of a class B fire and could also be used on a Class C fire (due to it’s non-conductive properties).
Head into your local home and garden retailer and request a kitchen fire extinguisher with a 5-B:C rating.
Even with all of the above, there’s another key ingredient in mitigating the insurance and liability risk of cooking related fires in the home. You need coverage that offers protection of your (and neighboring) property against damage or loss from fire. Contact an insurance advisor at Park Insurance today to receive a review of your current policy.