Not to scare you into ordering takeout more frequently, but it’s a fact: cooking mishaps are the leading cause of home fires, surpassing all other triggers. These cooking fires result in more injuries than any other residential fire incidents. Grease fires are particularly hazardous, accounting for one in every five at-home fire-related fatalities.
Knowing what causes a grease fire and how to put out a grease fire could save your life. Most grease fires occur on the stovetop when fat or oil hits the boiling state, then begins to smoke and catch fire soon after. The smoking point varies from 375 to 450 degrees Fahrenheit, based on the fat or oil in question. To put out a grease fire, turn off the heat, use a metal pot or baking sheet to cover the flames, throw salt and baking soda over the flames or use a Class K fire extinguisher.
Keep reading for more on this subject of discussion.
What Causes a Grease Fire
Whether you’re cooking in your home or a commercial kitchen, mistakes and accidents can happen. While there are numerous kitchen accidents, from a nicked finger while cutting onions to burnt toast, a grease fire is the most dangerous.
A grease fire starts when cooking oil is heated past its smoke point and ignites. Whether frying in classic butter or cooking with high-smoke-point peanut oil, all cooking oils have a heat level that sets them ablaze. Factors like leaving a pan unattended on high heat, using the wrong cooking oil with a low smoke point, or overheating oil while deep frying can lead to a grease fire.
Additionally, ignition sources near cooking areas can also lead to grease fires. Proximity to pilot lights, open flames, or hot surfaces can offer the necessary spark to ignite the grease.
Note: Never use water to put out a grease fire. When water interacts with hot oil, it instantly vaporizes, creating steam. The steam then expands quickly, splattering the hot oil and spreading the flames further. This explosive reaction intensifies the fire, turning a small mishap into a disastrous situation.
How to Put Out a Stove Top Grease Fire
Once a fire starts in your kitchen, it pays to act fast but not panic. If the fire has spread past the source area, evacuate immediately, lock the door, and call the fire brigade as you exit the house. If your gas stove is the source of the grease fire and is still contained, use the following tips to put it out safely:
- Turn off the heat on the stove: For a grease fire contained on the cooktop, turn the stove off immediately. Don’t attempt to move the pan, as doing so can make the fire stronger and grow rapidly. Stay away from the stove if the fire has spread past the cooktop to anything nearby. It takes a few minutes for an entire room to be engulfed in flames, so evacuate immediately, close the door to contain the fire, and call 911.
- Pour baking soda on small fires: Baking soda will extinguish small grease fires. So, if a fire is contained in a pan, throw a reasonable amount of baking soda directly on top of the fire. Don’t use flour, biscuit mix, or baking powder; all these substances are flammable. Also, don’t throw baking soda or salt onto the fire from the side, as this may cause the fire to jump out the back of the pan and catch elsewhere.
- Use a metal lid to cover the flames: Fire requires oxygen to sustain itself, so covering it with a metal lid will extinguish the flame. Place a metal lid or cookie sheet on top of the fire to deprive it of oxygen. Don’t use a glass or ceramic lid, bowl, or plate, as these could explode and become shrapnel, harming you. Should you want to adjust the metal lid or sheet, use metal tongs or a spatula rather than a kitchen towel, which could ignite.
- Use a fire extinguisher as a last resort: Only a class K fire can extinguish a grease fire; other types have water or other agents that could escalate the fire. The class K fire extinguisher will contaminate your kitchen and make for a huge mess, but if it’s choosing between a difficult cleanup job and your home burning, go for it! To use a fire extinguisher, remember the PASS technique. Pull the pin at the top of the extinguisher, aim the nozzle or hose at the base of the fire, squeeze the lever, and sweep the flames.
- Call the fire department: Sometimes, the flames are too aggressive, and even after implementing steps one through four, it’s still not smothered. If the fire is still burning even after trying all four steps, exit the room, close the door, and call the fire brigade. As the fire brigade is dispatched, you’ll be asked what you’ve done so far to extinguish the flames. The dispatcher, experienced in confronting fires of all kinds, might instruct you to take other fire-mitigating steps. As such, you should stay on the phone and follow the action. The dispatcher can cancel the response call, assuming the situation is safe.
How to Put Out a Grease Fire In the Oven
As families come and go from the home throughout the day, the kitchen is the main hub for fueling up. But with multitasking a huge part of today’s lifestyles, it can be too easy to forget food cooking in the oven or ignore cleaning up properly after preparing food.
Since most home fires occur in the kitchen, it would help to ensure household members are present when cooking. Here’s how to put out a grease fire in the oven:
- Don’t open the oven door: Opening the door can introduce one of the elements of a fire triangle (oxygen) and create a flame surge. Close the oven door to contain the flames.
- Turn off the heat: Immediately turn off the heat source, assuming the oven is still on. This should reduce the intensity of the fire and keep the situation from worsening.
- Please wait for the fire to extinguish itself: A small grease fire in the oven can burn out after the heat source is disconnected.
- Use a fire extinguisher: If the fire keeps growing, use a class K fire extinguisher designed for kitchen fires. Aim the nozzle at the base of the fire, not directly into the grease.
- Call for help: If the fire grows despite your efforts, contact the fire department for professional assistance.
How to Prevent an Oven Fire
While oven fires are scary, they can easily be prevented. Check the guide below to discover how to keep oven fires at bay:
- Ensure your oven is serviced, clean, and in good repair.
A properly functioning oven is the surest way to avoid a fire, so ensure it is serviced at least once yearly. Also, clean any leftover food scraps after cooking, as these can burn the next time you turn on the oven, leading to lots of smoke and, eventually, a fire.
- Don’t leave the house when food is cooking in the oven.
Unsupervised cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires. Staying around the home ensures household members are aware of any odd smell or smoke that can alert you to the presence of fire. Besides leaving the home, consuming alcohol while cooking may lower alertness.
- Cover food that might splatter
Use a splatter guard or cover to prevent grease from splattering inside the oven. Fat and grease splattering can trigger a flame that results in a small fire.
- Install a smoke detector.
The sound of a smoke alarm is the best way to know something is about to go south in the kitchen. Ensure you install alarms correctly and place them 6 to 20 feet away from kitchen appliances to deter false alarms. The 6-foot distance applies to photoelectric detectors, and the 20-foot space applies to ionization detectors.
- Monitor cooking temperatures
When frying food, know an oil’s flash point, which is when the oil is hot enough to ignite a fire. Spot-check using an instant-read thermometer or a probe thermometer that clips onto the side of a pot.
- Don’t use the oven to heat your home.
Avoid heating your home with the oven. A gas oven can catch fire or burn inefficiently, causing carbon monoxide poisoning. Since an electric oven is not designed for space heating, it might overheat from prolonged use, triggering a fire.
How to Prevent Grease Fires
A moment of distraction when cooking can lead to a grease fire, which can set your kitchen and your home ablaze in no time if not extinguished immediately. Imagine getting the oil ready to fry your frozen snacks deep when your phone suddenly rings. You attend the call while waiting for the oil to reach the desired temperature. If the oil gets hot enough, it will start a fire.
Since grease fires are preventable, here are a few tips for ensuring you don’t set your house ablaze when cooking:
- Don’t leave the oil unattended.
Unattended cooking is a common precursor to kitchen fires. When you’re present while cooking, you can quickly address any issues that arise, be it adjusting the heat or stirring ingredients. Most cooking oils reach their smoking point very quickly, so it’s good to be in the kitchen when the pan gets hot.
It’s advisable to use a food thermometer and check if the grease has reached the recommended temperature before placing any ingredients in it. Different cooking oils have different smoke points, which is the temperature at which they begin producing flammable vapors. With a food thermometer, you can easily monitor the oil’s temperature to avoid surpassing the smoke point.
- Monitor the flame
You must also monitor the flame and turn off the burner immediately after noticing smoke or a sharp smell filling the kitchen. It would also help to heat oil slowly on a low flame to deter any unfortunate grease fires. Grease doesn’t instantly catch fire, but the high flame may exacerbate the situation.
- Don’t place frozen food into hot grease.
Frozen foods can introduce moisture to hot oil, leading to violent splattering. Remove as much moisture as possible from food before placing it in hot oil. Rather than using your hands, use tongs or forks to put food in the sizzling pan to avoid splattering hot grease everywhere.
Some products, like frozen meat and eggs, will cause the oil to pop when they come into contact with a hot pan, so it’s important to maintain some distance from the stovetop when cooking.
- Keep flammable items at a safe distance.
Never keep items like oven mitts, paper towels, wooden utensils, potholders, and loose clothing near the stove, particularly when heating something as explosive as oil. Keep grease fires from spreading by moving flammable objects away from the cooking appliances.
- Be careful with deep fryers.
Deep fryers should be handled carefully. Ensure it’s placed properly on the stovetop and is at no risk of tipping over. Also, be extra careful while putting in and taking out food from the fryer to avoid getting burned. Since deep fryers can hold larger amounts of oils than regular pans, they are likely to ignite a kitchen and set the whole house ablaze.
- Get a splatter guard.
Putting a splatter guard atop the frying pan is a barrier that keeps hot oil from splashing onto the stovetop.
- Clean the cooking area.
Grease accumulation on stove tops, ovens, and exhaust hoods can fuel fires. Regularly cleaning these surfaces removes combustible residues, reducing the possibility of a fire starting and offering a safer cooking environment.
- Use appropriate cookware
Deep pans with high sides are crucial when frying as they keep oil from splattering on the stovetop and surrounding areas. Moreover, cookware with tight-fitting lids provides a quick way to extinguish a potential fire. This is a preventive measure against fire escalation.
- Avoid overcrowding
Frying excess food at once increases the possibility of oil splatter. Overcrowding the pan can cause hot oil to overflow and ignite, leading to a grease fire. Cooking in smaller batches allows better control over the frying process, reducing the risk of splatter and possible fire hazards.
What Should You Never Do to a Grease Fire?
Don’t panic if your pan catches fire. While it’s easier said than done, you should remain calm and think of the best way to smother fires before they engulf your entire house. Let’s have a look at some of the things you should never do during a grease fire.
- Don’t use water or any other liquid.
Water is the last resort for putting out a kitchen fire. If your saucepan suddenly catches fire, water or other liquid can worsen it. Dousing flames with water can cause the hot grease to instantly vaporize the water and turn it into a burst of steam, which could burn you or anyone near the stove. It would also make it challenging to smother the fire.
- Please don’t move the pot or take it outside.
Our hands often shake when we are nervous, so carrying a burning pot outside the kitchen is dangerous. Understandably, you’ll be tempted to move the blazing pot away from the wooden cabinets in your kitchen, but mistakenly dropping it can set your kitchen on fire. Also, you can be injured if you spill a little oil on your skin.
- Don’t throw flour or baking powder on the fire.
Although baking soda can help extinguish a small fire, you can’t use baking powder as its substitute. The same applies to flour, which is lightweight and explosive. Therefore, keep these substances away from the stove unless you want the fire to get out of control.
- Do not fan the fire.
Any cloth or paper can quickly ignite if it gets near the fire. So, attempting to fan a grease fire with a towel or any other fabric can spread the fire to other flammable items in the kitchen. You are also likely to splash grease on yourself if you get near it.
- Don’t use glass or plastic.
Because fire can’t burn without oxygen, the best way to contain it is to cover it, particularly with a metal lid. A glass or plastic lid would not do the trick. The glass may shatter because of the high heat, which could be dangerous for anyone nearby. Meanwhile, a plastic lid will burn and melt.
An oil inferno is the worst-case scenario in any kitchen, whether residential or commercial. But do you know how to put out a grease fire if it happens to you? One of the essential things to remember is never to use water to put out grease fires, as this can worsen the situation.
Water and oil don’t mix, so pouring water onto burning grease can cause splashes that spread the flames further. Rather than using water, turn off the heat source, cover the pan with a metal lid or cookie sheet, or smother the fire with a reasonable amount of baking soda or salt. If the fire is too intense for the methods above, use a class K fire extinguisher until it’s completely smothered.