Statistically, the kitchen is by far the most likely area for a fire to start within your house. The most recent official statistics from the Home Office showed that between April 2016 and March 2017, just shy of 50% of all house fires attended by the fire brigade in England involved, or were started by, cooking equipment.
Whether due to user error or electrical faults with appliances, there can be no doubting the importance of taking precautions against one of the most likely fire risk areas in the home.
The following article has been created to help you understand and minimise the potential fire hazards in your kitchen, with the hope that you can use this information to keep your home and family as safe as possible.
Accidents happen. Many of us will have already experienced a fire or a near miss in the kitchen. Something as simple as forgetting to turn off a hob or accidentally placing a tea towel too close to an open flame can have severe consequences.
The key to avoiding a serious incident is to be aware of the dangers and prepared to act whilst taking sensible precautions against the chances of fire.
Let’s look at the general precautions you can take to guard against fire, as well as the specific risks you may find in your kitchen.
Continue reading: General Precautions
Regardless of how careful you are, there is always a chance that something unforeseen could happen in your kitchen that starts a fire. A perfect example would be an electrical fault with an appliance, which can strike at any time without warning. Nobody can ever completely remove the risk of a fire starting. First and foremost, detection is key.
The most obvious way to protect your family from the dangers of fire is also the most effective – a working fire alarm. The importance of having a fire detection system in your house cannot be overstated. Of course, smoke detectors are less than ideal within kitchens because of the likelihood they will false alarm due to cooking fumes.
It is recommended within the official guidance for the placement of smoke alarms in domestic properties (BS 5839-6:2013) that kitchens are protected by heat detectors rather than smoke detectors.
Best practice is to have an interlinked system of smoke alarms throughout your property connected to a heat alarm in the kitchen. This not only maximises the area protected, but also helps raise the alarm across the entire property in the event of a fire. It is also crucial to test your alarms on a regular basis using the test button on the unit.
If a fire should start, never try to tackle it unless you are certain it is safe to do so. Always make sure you have a fire blanket in an accessible place, and familiarise yourself with how to release it and use it.
You may also want to consider having a fire extinguisher to hand, but make sure to select a model which is suitable for use in a kitchen such as a wet chemical extinguisher. If the fire reaches a level that you think is dangerous to tackle, then get everyone out of your house immediately and call the fire brigade.
Never put yourself in danger trying to tackle a fire that has taken hold.
Let's discuss: Specific Risks
The oven is one of the more obvious fire risks in the kitchen, and as such most people naturally take care when using them. However, if a fire does take hold within your oven the advice is clear; if safe to do so, turn off the oven making sure to leave the oven door closed.
Keeping the door closed helps starve the fire of oxygen. If the fire can be contained until the temperature within the oven drops, it will usually go out before escaping.
Whilst oven fires are fairly rare, extra care should always be taken when cooking fatty foods as any fat which escapes the pan and lands directly on the floor of the oven can easily ignite.
Always make sure to remove any excess grease or food residue from the bottom of your oven to minimise this risk.
A grill pan which is dirty is much more likely to catch fire. Deposits of grease or leftover scraps of food can ignite easily under the intense heat of a grill. The simplest way to lessen this risk is to make sure that your grill pan is always cleaned after use.
Unlike ovens, not all grills are enclosed, and as such a grill pan fire has free access to the oxygen it needs to grow. This means that a fire can take hold and grow very quickly. Therefore, you should never leave a grill unattended.
If you are present at the first signs of smoke or fire, then it is much easier to prevent the fire from spreading by quickly turning off the grill and isolating the fire if possible.
One of the most publicised kitchen fire risks is the danger of oil igniting when deep frying – the classic chip pan fire. The reason this is one of the most widely recognised risks is due to the potential severity of handling the situation poorly.
Natural instinct when faced with a fire is to douse it with water to put out the flames. However, introducing even a tiny amount of water into a pan of burning oil can cause disaster. Rather than cooling or extinguishing the fire, the water immediately condenses into steam when it enters the oil, and this reaction causes the oil to burst outwards spreading the burning material and flames.
The only safe way to tackle a chip pan fire is with a fire blanket but this must only be done if it is safe to do so. Ideally, the hob should be turned off first to remove the heat source, then a fire blanket can be placed carefully and slowly over the pan in order to safely cut off the oxygen supply to the fire. This allows the oil to cool to below its ignition point and the flames to go out.
Burnt toast is usually more of a nuisance than a danger, but even though a piece of toast will normally burn out quickly, the risk of a fire spreading from your toaster is very real.
Best practice is to avoid using your toaster underneath wall mounted cupboards or near to any other flammable materials. Also, make sure that there is free access to the electric socket the toaster is connected to so that it can be safely switched off in the event of a fire.
Most fabrics are tremendously flammable. A carelessly placed cloth can quickly catch fire if in contact with your hob or grill. If you have a gas hob in your kitchen, extra care should be taken to ensure tea towels and other kitchen cloths are kept well away from the open flames.
Another risk when cooking with a gas flame is the danger of clothing catching fire if it makes contact with your hob. Try to avoid wearing loose fitting clothes (especially sleeves) whilst cooking to lessen this risk.
16% of all fires in the home are caused by faults with electrical cables or devices. One thing that can make a significant difference to this risk is effective cable management. In general terms, this means taking care not to overload plug sockets, and keeping cables out of the way and safe from damage.
In relation to kitchen fire safety specifically, extra care should be taken to ensure cables are not draped over hot surfaces, be that your hob or a pan which has just come out of the oven.
And Finally: To Summarise
So as we have read, the potential fire risks within your kitchen are many and varied, but knowing what they are is half the battle. The best defence against fire in your kitchen is a combination of sensible precautions, quick detection and decisive action.
Implementing the tips above and having a working heat alarm installed in your kitchen will go a long way to keeping your home and your family as safe as possible from the very real dangers of fire.
Fire Blankets from £5.75
Smoke & Heat Alarms from £3.95
Fire Extinguishers from £10.75
Wet Chemical Fire Extinguishers from £30.00
First Aid Kits from £3.95
Bonus Tips: Fire Safety in the Home, Car & Caravan
Be Covered Wherever you are
We’ve previously mentioned how there are different types of fire and different extinguishers that can be used for each, but knowing your fires and what extinguisher to have is one thing, knowing how to be safe wherever you are is another.
Whether you’re relaxing at home, cooking, driving or enjoying a weekend away, ensure you’re safe at all times by having the correct fire safety equipment.
Safety at Home
You may have fitted fire alarms throughout your house, which is a great first step, but make sure you can prevent potential fires becoming worse by having the right home fire extinguisher to hand. Fires are most likely to occur in the house, started by naked flames such as candles, cookers or electrical failure. To ensure the most common risks are covered, the extinguisher of choice would be a dry powder.
Stay Safe on the Road
A fire extinguisher is a handy tool to have with you on the road. You can buy specific car extinguishers that are much more compact and can be kept on the passenger side of the car, should anything happen to your vehicle or other vehicles around you.
When it comes to purchasing an extinguisher for your car it’s worth noting that A, B or C Class fires are more likely to occur. Therefore getting a dry powder extinguisher is probably best, as they can deal with all of these types and they won’t freeze if the temperature drops below zero.
If you drive a truck for work, make sure you have an extinguisher close by. You can get the same extinguisher as you would for a regular car, alongside safety boxes to store larger extinguishers, unless advised under the ADR Regulation.
Enjoy Your Weekend Away
If you go for a weekend away in a caravan it’s highly likely that you’ll already have a fire blanket or fire extinguisher, but if you buy your own caravan or motorhome you should make sure you’re well protected. Most caravans may have a powder extinguisher in them as standard which is handy for fires that may occur, as they are often similar to ones that happen in the home. However, because a caravan is much smaller in size, they can cause problems in the way of visibility and inhalation. Therefore it’s probably best in such cases that you also include a small foam fire extinguisher.