Home Cooking Fires

Written by: Justin Hamilton

Firefighter / EMT-Paramedic / PIO in training / Public Education

June 13, 2020

Help! Our KITCHEN is on FIRE!!!!



In June 2020, our department responded to a structure fire in our district. The crews arrived on scene to find a one-story residential house with heavy smoke showing in the front.


A crew of two entered the structure to extinguish the fire. Heavy smoke was already banked down to the floor. A search crew entered as well. Personnel remained outside to assist with staging tools and equipment.

The fire was determined to have originated in the kitchen and spread to the living room. The fire was a result of cooking grease that was left unattended by the homeowner. The homeowner reported that he left to run an errand, forgot that the food was on the stove  and came back to find his house on fire.





While cooking on the stove, grilling on the patio, or frying a turkey, is fun, memorable, and relaxing, we must be mindful of the risk associated with heat, food, and other cooking materials such as oil, grease, or fats.



According the the National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) Home Cooking Fires Report, cooking fires are the #1 cause of home fires and home injuries. And the leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking.



Immediately, there are a few things we can do to prevent these fires based on this key takeaway from the NFPA report:


  • Be on alert! If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stove-top.
  • Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food.





Cooking fire facts: (Based on 2013-2017 annual averages)


  • Cooking equipment is the leading cause of home* fires and fire injuries, causing 49% of home fires that resulted in 21% of the home fire deaths and 45% of the injuries. 
  • Two out of three home cooking fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials.
  • Clothing is the item first ignited in less than 1% of these fires, but clothing ignitions lead to 14% of the home cooking equipment fire deaths.
  • 3 out of 5 home cooking fire incidents result from ranges or cook-tops.
  • Unattended equipment is a factor in one-third (31%) of reported home cooking fires and half (48%) of the associated deaths.
  • Frying dominates the cooking fire problem.
  • Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.

*The term home encompasses one- or two-family homes, including manufactured homes and apartments or other multifamily housing.



Cooking is an essential part of our day. It is so routine that some safety items may be overlooked. Whether we want to hear this or not, complacency while cooking is prevalent in our everyday lives. One homeowner found this out as mentioned earlier.


Fire Departments all across America respond to an average of 173,000 house fires that resulted from a cooking fire. This number of fires is 49% of all reported fires in the US annually. 550 lives were claimed due to cooking fires and 5020 injuries, not including firefighter fatalities or injuries. Most of these injuries were incurred while trying to combat the fire before calling 911.



Let’s establish the validity of these fires and how dangerous they are and the need to pay more attention to them.
Also, we must identify when and when not to engage a cooking fire to prevent injuries.



Now, not all cooking is created equal. You may have a roast in a crock-pot for 6-10 hours; you may have a turkey in the oven for 4-5 hours. While frying and broiling need constant supervision, simmering, baking, or roasting food, can be checked regularly. Remain in the kitchen while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.


It’s not just the food, oil, grease, and fat that catch on fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains are also fuel sources that can easily ignite — keep all material a safe distance away from your stove-top.



First, lets understand how fire works.


There must be a heat source, fuel source, and oxygen for there to be fire. When all three of these things meet under the right circumstances, combustion will occur from the chain reaction. This is called the Fire Tetrahedron.




Now We’re Cooking With Peanut Oil!


Let’s visualize heating cooking oil too fast or leaving it unattended while remaining on the fire or heating element. Now it’s on fire, what do we do?


Photo Credit: State Farm via Flickr



How to extinguish a cooking oil, grease, fat, fire in 2 simple steps: 

Disclaimer: if, under any circumstances, there is a fire, call 911 and get out of the house. Hardin County ESD2 a.k.a. Lumberton Fire & EMS is not responsible for any injuries resulting from the following actions. This is for informational purposes only. Proceed at your own risk.


  1. Cover the pot with a lid or baking sheet. This will smother the fire, taking the oxygen away from the fire triangle.
  2. Turn off the heat. This will allow cooling and take away the heat source from the fire triangle.
  3. Alternatively, use a fire extinguisher.

WARNING! DO NOT USE WATER! This will make the fire volatile and cause serious injury!
WARNING! DO NOT ATTEMPT TO MOVE THE POT/PAN OUTSIDE! Let the oil cool completely before moving.
WARNING! It’s also important to remember that 3-of-5 non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occurred when the victim tried to fight the fire themselves. The most common injuries sustained were burns to the hands and lower arms.



If you have tried to extinguish the fire but are unable to do so, or you are not comfortable attempting to extinguish the fire:


  1. GET OUT OF THE HOUSE. You do not need to be a hero, ensure the safety of you and your family.
  2. Close the door as you leave the house.
  3. Call 911 as soon as possible.
  4. IMPORTANT! Do not re-enter the house for any reason until the fire department reports that it is safe to go back inside.



It is important to remember these steps when there is a fire. But, it is as important, if not more important to take actions to prevent a fire in the first place.


Here are some tips to prevent fire while cooking:


  • Stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, boiling or broiling food. The leading cause of fires in the kitchen is unattended cooking.
  • Be alert and do not use the stove or stove-top if you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire away from your stove-top.
  • Remove as much moisture as possible from the food before putting it in hot oil. Do not put frozen foods into hot grease.
  • Keep the grease at the recommended temperature. If you see any smoke or the oil smells, it is an indication that it is too hot. Immediately turn off the burner to let it cool down.
  • Heat the oil slowly.
  • Add food gently to prevent splatter.
  • Keep a lid near the pan you’re cooking with so that it is accessible if a fire starts.
  • Always keep children away from the stove while cooking.



In summary, taking preventive measures is just as important as knowing what to do in case of emergency. Take complacency from the routine out of the equation by placing safety on a pedestal.




Here are some additional resources:



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