Cooking Fires are a Continuing Problem
According to a new study released on January 20, 2005, from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires caused by cooking remain the leading cause of home fires and home-fire injuries. Although cooking fires have been declining, they are declining at a much slower rate than home fires with other causes.
Why do these fires happen? Frequently it’s because people leave cooking food unattended. Often the fire starts within the first 15 minutes of cooking, showing that there is no safe period of time to leave cooking unattended.
In 2001, the NFPA study found, there were 117,100 home fires involving cooking equipment. These fires resulted in 370 civilian death, 4290 civilian injuries, and $453 million in property damage.
But that’s only part of the story. Minor cooking fires cause hidden harm that doesn’t show up in the official tallies. An independent study found that each year, there are some 12.3 million cooking fires that are never reported to authorities, accounting for more than half of all unreported fires. In most case, these unreported cooking fires were confined to the cooking materials that first caught fire. But they are responsible for an estimates 642,000 injuries or illnesses (including headaches and dizziness) each year- another reason why cooking fires are a concern.
Cooking fires are also dangerous because people can easily try putting them out the wrong way. What may first come to mind- using a fire extinguisher or splashing water- can make matters worse when it’s a cooking fire, because these methods can cause splattering that spreads rather than contains the fire. Cooking fires should be smothered- by covering a pan with a lid or closing the oven door, for example.
Two out of three cooking fires in 2001 involved the range, particularly the stovetop. Electric ranges have a higher risk of fires and related injuries and property damage than gas ranges, but gas ranges have a slightly higher risk of fire deaths. Electric ranges have become more widely used in recent years: the percentage of households using gas ranges declined from 47.2 percent in 1980 to 39.7 percent in 2001, while during the same period, the percentage of households using electric ranges increased from 52.1 percent to 59.9 percent.
The NFPA recommends these steps to reduce the risk of cooking fires:
- Make sure combustible items, such as rags, pot holders, curtains and bags, are kept far from the cooking surfaces.
- Don’t leave cooking food on the stovetop and keep a close eye on food inside the oven.
- Don’t cook if you’re drowsy or feeling the effects of alcohol, medications, or other drugs.
- Roll up sleeves and don’t wear loose fitting clothing. If your clothes catch fire, stop, drop, and roll until fire is out.
- Clean cooking equipment regularly to remove grease on cooking materials that can ignite.
- Keep children and pets away from cooking areas by creating a three foot “kid-free zone” around the stove.
Reprinted with permission of the Residential Fire Safety Institute