The kitchen might be the most popular room in your home, but according to the American Red Cross, it’s also where most house fires begin. The Red Cross responded to nearly 63,000 home fires in fiscal year 2011, and the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) says 40% of them were caused by cooking fires.
The stovetop is by far the most likely location for a kitchen fire (59%) with the oven responsible for another 16%.
As you might imagine, frying poses the greatest statistical risk of fire. A 2004 study (PDF) from the U.S. Fire Administration found most kitchen fires start in the early evening, while dinner is traditionally being prepared.
The most common mistake leading to a kitchen fire is leaving cooking food unattended – something we all do. Whether it’s an urgent cry from one of your children, the phone ringing in another room, or a knock at the front door, distractions happen.
If you have to leave the kitchen – particularly when frying, grilling, or broiling food – turn off the stove. If you’re actually “only gone a minute” you can switch the heat back on and everything will be fine. If the distraction keeps you away from the kitchen longer than you thought, you might have to adjust your cooking time, but you won’t have to call 911.
If your recipe calls for simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling, check on the food regularly to be sure it’s not scorching or burning. Use a timer to remind yourself when it should be done.
It’s a good idea to get into the habit of keeping items that can catch fire (like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, or towels) away from your stovetop. True, none of those items are likely to spontaneously combust while sitting on top of your stove as long as it’s off – but it’s a good habit for those moments when you’re getting dinner started and one of those inevitable distractions come up.
While kids can be great assistants in the kitchen, the Red Cross recommends maintaining a three-foot kid-free zone around the stove. If you want to let your soon-to-be-Master-Chef get closer, make sure you’re close at hand and paying close attention.
If, in spite of your best efforts, you do have a cooking fire, the NFPA recommends:
- Just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire.
- Call 911 or the local emergency number after you leave.
- For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
- Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it’s completely cooled.
Download a PDF of these cooking safety tips from the NFPA and review them with your family!
You can also download the Red Cross Fire Prevention and Safety Checklist for reference.