Thousands of cooking fires occur in homes each year. While some are manageable and easy to put out, grease fires are often a different story.
Cooking with oil or other types of fat is common, whether you’re frying or sauteing. But, if things get too hot, that fat can ignite and flare up in seconds. While your instincts might be to douse the fire with water, that’s one of the worst things you can do to extinguish a grease fire.
Let’s dive deeper into what causes grease fires and how you can put one out safely and quickly if it flares up in your kitchen.
What Causes a Grease Fire?
Grease fires occur when oil or grease on a stovetop gets hot enough to ignite. In a split second, flames can lick up the side of your pan, creating intense and frightening heat.
Grease fires occur because oils are highly flammable. If they go beyond their smoke point, they can catch fire. Plus, they heat up very quickly. Once they go beyond the point of smoking, it can take as little as 30 seconds for them to get hot enough to ignite.
Perhaps the most dangerous thing about a grease fire, however, is that it’s self-fueling.
When the grease in a pan ignites and starts to burn, it’s also likely to splash and boil over. As that fat hits cupboards, counters, or even you, it serves as a fuel source for the flames, so they can jump and spread almost immediately. That’s why it only takes a matter of minutes for a grease fire to consume your kitchen—and then your home.
How to Put Out a Grease Fire
Again, your immediate reaction to seeing a fire is likely to pour water on it. When it comes to a grease fire, however, water tends to make things worse. It can cause the fiery oil to splash everywhere, making the fire even larger and causing it to spread faster.
So, how can you safely put out a grease fire?
First, don’t panic. There’s no denying the fear that comes from seeing a large fire crackling on your stove. But, with some quick thinking and the right methods, you can extinguish the fire before it spreads too far.
If the fire is still contained within the pot, put on some oven mitts to protect your hands, turn off the heat on the stove and cover the pot with a lid. Fire requires oxygen to keep burning. The lid essentially “suffocates” it, putting out the flames quickly.
If the fire has started to spread but is still relatively small, grab a box of baking soda and pour it all over the flames. When baking soda heats up, it releases carbon dioxide which will cut off the oxygen to the fire.
Salt can also be used in place of baking soda to smother the oxygen and deny the fire of its necessary fuel source.
As a last resort, consider using a fire extinguisher. Fire extinguishers work by applying chemicals designed to cool the heat of a fire while smothering the fuel and removing oxygen.
Keep in mind that it’s never a bad idea to call 911 if you’re experiencing a grease fire. You might not have these items on hand, or you might be too unsure to stop it yourself. If that’s the case, reach for your phone, get out of the house, and call for help as quickly as possible.
How to Prevent Grease Fires
The best way to prevent grease fires in the kitchen is to keep your eyes on the stove while you’re cooking.
If you have anything frying or cooking in oil on the stove, don’t walk away. Pay attention to what’s happening in the pan. If the oil starts to smoke, that’s an indicator that it’s getting too hot and could ignite soon. When you see that happen, turn the heat down immediately.
It’s also a good rule of thumb to keep highly flammable objects away from your stove while you’re cooking. Things like kitchen towels or paper products will ignite quickly and cause a fire to spread. Even if a fire does start, keeping it contained in one area will make it easier to put out.
Grease fires are (unfortunately) quite common, but they don’t have to destroy your home. Keep these tips in mind, keep a fire extinguisher on hand, and don’t hesitate to call 911 if you don’t think you’ll be able to put a fire out yourself.
Most importantly, if a grease fire does start to take over your kitchen, get out of the house. Cooking fires cause hundreds of civilian deaths and thousands of injuries each year. Don’t let yourself become a statistic if the flames get out of control.