Reporting Susan Koeppen
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Would you know what to do if a cooking fire broke out on top of your kitchen stove?
For most people the answer is no, which is why kitchen fires are the leading cause of house fires in the United States, resulting in more than 400 deaths, more than 5,000 injuries and millions of dollars in property damage each year.
With Thanksgiving approaching – the number one day for kitchen fires – Consumer Editor Susan Koeppen embarked on a special consumer investigation to help viewers know exactly what to do in case of a stovetop fire.
Koeppen met with Jason Zeigler, who admits he didn’t know what to do when oil for his chicken wings caught fire on his stove.
He described to Susan how he grabbed the burning pot and tried to take it outside.
“When I was turning around to get the door, and hit it with my backside, (the fire) flashed over and caught my arm and I dropped the pot and it came up on me,” Zeigler said.
He burned his right arm, the right side of his face and his right ear, and spent 11 days in the hospital.
Beaver Falls Fire Chief Mark Stowe said Jason’s reaction is common.
“We see it time and time again. We see people doing the wrong thing,” Chief Stowe said.
As a public service, Stowe and members of his department agreed to help Koeppen show the right and wrong way to put out a kitchen fire, using the kitchen in an abandoned house that was donated for firefighter training.
KDKA-TV placed six different cameras around the kitchen to capture every angle of the fire.
First, Chief Stowe put a cup of oil into a pan and turned on the gas. After a while the oil caught fire.
While your first reaction might be to throw water on the burning oil, that’s the absolute wrong thing to do as Chief Stowe demonstrated when he poured one cup of water into the burning oil.
The fireball that resulted was so intense it ripped the curtains off a window and billowed smoke and fire across the ceiling.
“What happens to that person who is standing there who just dumped the water?” Susan asked Chief Stowe.
“That fire is coming right into their face,” said the chief and they would likely be badly burned.
The chief also demonstrated how using a water based fire extinguisher caused the fire to immediately double in size, and how using a wet dish towel also made the situation worse by pushing flames out of the back of the pan and up the wall.
Even throwing something like flour on the fire caused it to grow.
The chief said the simplest way to handle a kitchen fire is to grab a lid, slide it over the burning pot, immediately turn off the stove and leave the pan alone for at least 20 minutes.
Removing the lid too soon causes the fire to re-ignite. The chief said even a cookie sheet will do if you don’t have a lid nearby.
Again, slide it over the burning pot, turn off the stove, and allow the pan to sit.
You can also use a fire extinguisher made especially for grease fires, like an easy to use spray can extinguisher called Tundra.
Stay back 4 to 6 feet and aim directly at the base of the fire. “You don’t want to be too close because that can drive the oil up the wall and onto the stove,” Stowe said.
Finally, the chief showed Koeppen a clever little device called the Stovetop Firestop which is like a fire extinguisher in a can.
Each tuna-sized can has magnets attached that clamp the device to your metal range hood.
Another version comes with a bracket for stoves without a hood. When a stovetop fire reaches the fuse on the firestop, the device breaks open and rains down a fire-supressing powder onto the fire.
The chief said quick action is crucial. From the point you see a grease fire you have, “30 seconds maybe ,if that,” before it’s too late.
Zeigler wishes he had known all that before his kitchen fire.
“If I had known then what I know now, I could have prevented all of this from happening,” Zeigler said.