Given that two out of every five home fires begin in kitchens, preventing kitchen fires is a valid focal point for this year’s Fire Prevention Week.
There are plenty of other causes for residential fires, of course, including wiring, creosote buildup in chimneys, careless handling of smoking materials, among others. But cooking is the leading cause both of home fires and home fire injuries. Not surprisingly, the chief culprits are ranges, accounting for more than half of the fires. Ovens were second at 16 percent. The chief threat from microwaves is scalding, and it occurs more frequently than one might guess.
In conjunction with Fire Prevention Week, the Kansas Department of Aging and Disability Services is offering a number of safety tips for older adults, though they apply to anyone who spends time in a kitchen. The tips start with remaining in the kitchen whenever food is being fried, grilled or boiled. Food left unattended was involved in more than one-third of cooking fires. When baking or roasting food, stay home. Putting baking potatoes in the oven and going for a walk or running an errand is a recipe for disaster.
Also, keep anything that can catch fire easily — hot pads or towels — away from the stove top. If you’re at the stove, avoid wearing loose-fitting clothing that might catch fire. And, of course, keep stovetops and burners clean.
“Unattended stoves and ovens are responsible for one-third of home-cooking fires,” said Kansas Fire Marshal Doug Jorgensen. His advice may be obvious, but it’s sound. “If a fire breaks out in a pan on your stovetop, never throw water on it. Always keep a lid nearby” and put it on the pan to smother the flames. Then be sure to turn the burner off. In the event of a fire in the microwave, keep the door shut and turn the oven off.
After cooking fires, fires associated with heating equipment are the second leading cause of home fires. Be particularly careful with space heaters — portable or fixed. National statistics show that they are involved in 80 percent of home heating fire deaths. Often that’s because space heaters are placed too close to clothing, upholstered furniture or bedding.
Smoking is a factor in several thousand home fires a year, often because a smoker falls asleep with a cigarette still burning.
As tragic as home fires are, they’re also generally preventable through common-sense precautions. Also, functioning smoke alarms and escape plans can prevent deaths in the event of a home fire.
The Manhattan Fire Department, always a valuable resource on fire safety, will hold a Fire Prevention Week open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Sunday at the main fire station at Kimball and Denison avenues.