By Kristen Miller
Cooking fires are the number-one cause of home fires and injuries, which is why the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has chosen the theme “Prevent Kitchen Fires” for this year’s Fire Prevention Week, Oct. 6 12.
Cooking equipment is involved in roughly 150,000 home fires per year, and many of those fires start because people aren’t paying attention, reported the NFPA. While a few minutes may not seem like much time to be away from the stove, that’s all it takes to start a fire that could destroy a home and harm others.
Between 2007 and 2011, US fire departments responded to an estimated annual average of 156,600 cooking-related fires, resulting in 400 civilian deaths, 5,080 civilian injuries, and $853 million in direct damage.
Two of every five home fires start in the kitchen, which is why it’s important to stay in the kitchen when cooking and not leave a stove unattended, the NFPA recommends.
Unattended cooking was a factor in 34 percent of reported home cooking fires.
Ranges accounted for 58 percent of home cooking fire incidents. Ovens accounted for 16 percent.
Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1 percent of home cooking fires, but these incidents accounted for 16 percent of the cooking fire deaths.
The NFPA suggests keeping anything that can catch fire oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, or curtains away from the stove top.
Also, when simmering, baking, roasting, cooking, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer as a reminder that you are cooking.
It’s also important to be alert and not cook when sleepy or when you have consumed alcohol.
Children under 5 years face a higher risk of non-fire burns associated with cooking than being burned in a cooking fire, according the NFPA. It is recommended to have a “kid-free zone” of at least 3 feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drinks are prepared or carried.
When it comes to scald burn injuries, microwave ovens are one of the leading home products associated with such injuries not related to fires. Nearly half (44 percent) of the microwave oven injuries seen at emergency rooms in 2011 were scald burns, according to the NFPA.
What to do if there is a cooking fire
The NFPA recommends the following if there is a cooking fire:
• Just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire;
• Call 911 after you leave;
• If you try to fight the fire, be sure others are getting out and you have a clear way out;
• Keep a lid nearby when you’re cooking to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stove top. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
• For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
Fire prevention education in our schools
As part of National Fire Prevention Week, Dassel and Cokato elementary schools will be educating students on fire safety throughout the week.
In addition to classroom education, many of the students will be visiting the respective fire halls and/or getting a visit in the classroom by a firefighter Friday.
At Dassel Elementary, kindergarten classes will visit the fire hall Wednesday and Thursday, and second graders will visit the fire hall Thursday, as well.
At Cokato Elementary, kindergarten through third grade will visit the fire hall Friday.
History of Fire Prevention Week
Fire Prevention Week was established to commemorate the Great Chicago Fire that began Oct. 8, 1871, and lasted two days, doing most of its damage on the second day. The fire killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres.
Although the Great Chicago Fire was the most well-known blaze that day, it was not the biggest. That distinction goes to the Peshtigo Fire, the most devastating forest fire in US history.
The Peshtigo Fire, which also started Oct. 8, 1871, roared through northeastern Wisconsin and through 16 towns, killed 1,152 people, and scorched 1.2 million acres before it came to an end.
Historical accounts of the Peshtigo Fire say the blaze was started when railroad workers clearing land for tracks unintentionally started a brush fire.
Both the Great Chicago Fire and the Peshtigo Fire produced countless tales of heroism and bravery by those who survived. The fires also changed the way firefighters and public officials thought about fire safety.
On the 40th anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire, the Fire Marshals Association of North America (today known as International Fire Marshals Association) decided that the anniversary should be observed in a way that would keep the public informed about the importance of fire prevention.
Over the years, the anniversary became more official. In 1920, President Woodrow Wilson issued the first National Fire Prevention proclamation. Since 1922, Fire Prevention Week has been observed Sunday through Saturday the week in which Oct. 8 falls.