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8 July, 2015

Kitchen Safety — Controlled Pyrotechnics

Comments : 1 Posted in : fire, foodie, funny, humor, safety, story, Uncategorized on by : Jeanette Schramm

You can tell this picture was staged -- nobody has countertops that clean (or, you know, cupboards that empty)...

I received a comment from a reader, not too long ago, suggesting I write a piece on fire safety. 

“Suggestion: In a later post (yes I’m reading these backwards) you instruct your loyal readers how to incinerate their kitchen a la flambe. How about a post on kitchen first aid and fire suppression? After all minor accidents while cooking are almost inevitable; knowing what to do can mean the difference between calling 911 and just starting over.”


Considering I have since taught you guys how to ignite your house with a thermos, giving you a fire safety lesson probably isn’t a bad idea, after all. I’ll post a piece on first aid while I’m away, next week (I’m leaving tomorrow for Boise, again).

We’ll go through a list of different inferno situations, how they can start, and what you can do to put them out. If I happen to miss any, ask me in the comments and I’ll find you an answer.


Before we begin with fire safety, I want to make it VERY clear that every home should have a fire extinguisher in their kitchen. Mine is on the wall outside of my apartment (my kitchen is right by my exterior door). 

If you don’t have a fire extinguisher, go out and buy one today and hope you never have to use it.

And now, fire safety…
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All of the suggestions below should only be attempted if they can be done safely. If not, get out of the house and call 911.

Pouring water onto hot (in this case, already burning) oil creates a huge fireball

Grease Fires
Whether you’re deep frying a turkey for Thanksgiving (which I would totally recommend trying at least once) or pan-frying bacon on a gas stove and a little spills over the edge, grease fires can be scary.

The danger is when you have an open flame of some kind and hot oil or grease. In the case of deep frying a turkey, for example (which should ALWAYS be done outside in an open area, on pavement), water from the cleaned turkey might drip into the hot oil and spatter. The spatter not only poses a threat to the cook (who can get burned), but it can also catch on fire.

While you will hopefully never have to deal with a fireball situation like the one in the gif above, small grease fires (like the one already burning in the pan before water is poured on it) are a real possibility.

In the event of a grease fire, this is what you should do:

  1. Turn the heat off — Make sure you don’t move the pot, as that could splash oil on yourself or on parts of the kitchen, complicating… well, a lot of things.
  2. Cover the pot/pan with a metal lid — By covering the fire, you deprive it of oxygen, suffocating the flame. A glass lid may shatter, so the metal lid is important.
  3. Spray the pot with an ABC dry chemical fire extinguisher — This is a bit of a last resort, but if the fire starts to get out of hand, this is the way to go.
  4. Get out of the house and call 911 — If the fire is out of your control, do the smart thing and leave it to people who are trained to handle fires.
Three things you should NEVER do:
  1. Throw water on the fire — See the gif above.
  2. Move the pot/pan — See the reasoning for point 1 above.
  3. Throw anything else on the fire, like flour — The dust particles will catch fire and have a similar effect to the water.
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Again, taking things a bit to the extreme...

Oven Fires
Ovens get messy. Whether you’re making a pie for the first time and forget to put a pan underneath it (been there) or something bubbles over and spills, stuff can drip down to the bottom. With any luck, it’ll miss the heating elements and land harmlessly on the metal below. If it does land on the element, it might catch fire. In that case, what do you do?

Fortunately, oven fires are contained and easier to manage than grease fires, in most cases. You can handle them in one of two ways:
  1. Turn off the oven — This will take away the heat source (gradually, anyway).
  2. Keep the oven door closed — This will suffocate the fire and prevent it from growing or spreading.
  3. Call the fire department — If the fire doesn’t start shrinking in size after steps 1 and 2, call the pros and get out of the house.
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Yes, this is from the same movie as the gif above...

Microwave Fires
Microwave fires are a lot like oven fires, in a way. The main difference being that they are easier to start by accident (as mentioned in Kitchen Confessions).

Typically, they are started by metal being put in the microwave, causing arcing and flames. If you ask college freshmen, however, the best way to start a microwave fire is by either leaving popcorn in for too long or by forgetting to add water to your Easy Mac.

Other than evacuating your dorm building at 3 a.m., you can handle a microwave fire like this (it’s going to sound really familiar, ready?):

  1. Turn off the microwave — No more radiation, no more heat/electric arcing, no more fire.
  2. Keep the microwave door closed — While there won’t be any additional fire starting, the existing fire will have to chew through its oxygen before it goes out.
  3. Call the fire department — If the fire is more than a little one, this is probably the best course of action.
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The little outlet faces on the left look so concerned.

Electrical Fires
This one is not exclusive to the kitchen, but it should be covered anyway.

Electrical fires can be caused by a number of things, from faulty wiring to too many things plugged into one outlet. They can turn into a big problem, depending on the source (in the wall itself or plugged in to the wall). Should your problem arise from an item plugged in to the wall, here’s what you can do:
  1. Unplug the problem — This should *only* be followed if you can safely unplug the faulty cord. If not…
  2. Get out of the house and call 911 — Regardless of whether or not you can unplug the cord, call 911 ASAP and make sure you are safely out of and away from the house.
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There you have it! If you have any other questions about how to handle certain types of fire, let me know in the comments and I’ll find out for you.

1 COMMENT

One thought on : Kitchen Safety — Controlled Pyrotechnics

  • Anonymous
    July 8, 2015 at 9:45 pm

    If comfortable using a fire extinguisher… Use the P.A.S.S. acronym for proper operation.
    Pull the pin
    Aim at the base of the fire
    Squeeze the handles
    Sweep side to side at the base of the fire.

    When using an extinguisher:
    ALWAYS Call 911 before using the extinguisher, if someone else is there have them call while you tend to the fire
    ALWAYS keep your exit at your back, don't let the fire get between you and your exit

    NEVER Move the fire, deal with it where it is!
    NEVER Put water on a grease fire! or an electrical fire for that matter.

    Thank you, Safe cooking!
    Tips from
    Roger Welch Sr. former Firefighter/EMT-I, currently Fire & Emergency Management Consultant

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