Stephanie Cruse said she and her husband learned a lesson about kitchen fires the hard way.
“He had been using the oven and had to run to the store,” Cruse said. “He turned the oven off, but when he did, he accidentally turned one of the stove eyes on and didn’t know it and left.”
She said there was an empty pot on the stove.
“He was gone maybe five minutes; when he came back home and opened the door, the apartment was filled with smoke,” Cruse said.
She said the fire that started from the stove caught the entire kitchen wall ablaze. Her husband, Clifton, sustained minor contact burns and smoke inhalation.
According to officials with the National Fire Protection Association, the fire that damaged the Cruses’ apartment is typical.
A recent report by the National Fire Protection Association showed fire departments in the U.S. responded to an average of 371,700 home structure fires annually between 2006-10.
Home cooking fires caused an estimated $7.2 billion in property damage annually and an average of 2,590 deaths.
The report notes 42 percent of reported home fires started in the kitchen or cooking area. These fires were the third leading cause of home fire deaths and the leading cause of home fire injuries.
“Cooking fires is the biggest issue in the city, and most of the time it is from unattended cooking,” Florence Fire Marshal Danny Simbeck said. “People put something on and then leave and watch television, talk on the telephone or one of the kids call, and they get distracted.”
Statistics released from the NFPA note in 2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an average of 156,400 home fires involving cooking equipment. Those fires caused 420 deaths, 5,310 injuries and $993 million in property damage.
State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk said his office tries to stress the importance of not leaving the kitchen when something is on the stove.
“It is so important that when you’re cooking, you need to be around the stove the entire time,” he said.
Paulk said this is especially true during the holiday season, when more activities are centered around the kitchen.
“With more cooking at the holidays, there is more potential for accidents to happen,” Paulk said.
NFPA officials said Thanksgiving Day is the leading day for home cooking fires. In 2010, there were 1,370 fires on Thanksgiving, a 219 percent increase over the daily average.
“People are also rushing during the holidays and when they start rushing in the kitchen, things can happen,” Simbeck said. “People get too many things going on in the kitchen and when that happens there can be accidents.”
Paulk said one of the biggest concerns is leaving cooking oil unattended on a stove.
“It’s a combustible liquid; it can boil over onto the stove eye and when that happens, there’s a fire,” he said. “Also, while cooking, people are using towels or pot holders, which are potential fuel for fire.
“There’s so many things that can happen, that whoever is cooking has to watch out for.”
Simbeck said it is vital that there is a fire extinguisher in the kitchen.
“It is something you hope you don’t have to use, but it is good to have when you need it,” Russellville Fire Marshal Steve Thornton said.
“We didn’t have one,” Cruse said. “We do now.”
Cruse said she and her husband also learned how dangerous it can be to leave anything on the stove top.
“That’s one thing we learned the hard way,” she said.
“We just want people to be careful, watch what they’re doing and don’t leave the stove unattended,” Simbeck said. “The last thing we want to do is show up at your house on the holidays.”
Tom Smith can be reached at 256-740-5757 or tom.smith@TimesDaily.com.
Stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. If you have to leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.
When simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
Stay alert. If sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stove top.
Keep anything that can catch fire such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging or towels away from the stove top.
Get out, and when you leave, close the door to help contain the fire.
Call 911 or the local emergency number from outside the home.
Keep a lid nearby when cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stove. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
Source: The National Fire Protection Association