April 15, 2012

Oil Cooking Fires in the Kitchen



     The granddaughter of a friend of mine was severely burned in a cooking oil accident in her kitchen.

NOTE: Samantha, is in Puerto Rico away from her family and friends. She could benefit from knowing that people care for her. Encouraging comments can be sent to:

Update: Sam is now in the United States being treated for such severe burns that she will have difficulty walking and will always be in constant pain.


     Not long after, a friend of mine lost her friend, who died in a kitchen fire when her clothing caught fire.


…more than 200 times each year for the last three years, the city’s (Greensburg, PA) volunteer firefighters have been called out after grease left burning in a pan on a stove has caught fire.

Fire chiefs attribute the uptick in cooking fires to lifestyle factors, including shift workers preparing meals when they’re tired, people deciding to cook a snack after a night out, and more homecooking instead of dining out in the economic recession.*


In many Greensburg incidents, firefighters respond to an alarm and put out a minor fire or vent smoke, officials said. In any case, firefighters are going out on a call, which incurs expense, and are put in danger.

Curtains, cabinets and other items that can burn easily are often near stoves and aggravate problems, said Mt. Pleasant fire Chief Jerry Lucia.

“That’s one of the big ways to start a kitchen fire: The oil gets ignited and you have flames up to the ceiling,” he said.

The danger escalates when people try to put out hot oil or grease and the fiery mess splashes on them, fire chiefs said.*


“Cooking fires” have become so common that Greensburg fire Chief J. Edward Hutchinson plans to distribute a pamphlet about how to prevent them…

“They put grease or oil in a skillet or pan or pot and leave,” Hutchinson said. “It gets to a certain degree, and it bursts into flames. They try to either put it out or throw it out, and problems occur.”*


     DO NOT PUT WATER ON A GREASE FIRE! This can not be stressed enough. Pouring water on burning grease or oil will not extinguish the fire. It will only cause the burning oil to splash, spreading the grease fire around.****

Also do not throw sugar or flour on a grease fire. One cup creates the explosive force of two sticks of dynamite.***

A fire last year resulted when a woman plunged a burning pan into a sink of water “and it just exploded,” Brasile said, adding that water and grease don’t mix.*


     First, turn off the heat.

The easiest way to smother a grease fire is to cover it with a pan lid. Be careful with glass lids; they can break from the extreme heat of open flame.****

You should calmly place a damp (note: wrung out, not dripping) towel over the hot grease and the lack of oxygen will douse the flames. If you remove the towel while the grease is still too hot, the flames will return. Always turn off the heat as soon as possible. If you do nothing and leave the house, the flames will spread to the rest of the kitchen and could burn down your house. You have to make your own decisions but you can make better decisions if you are informed and remain calm. A kitchen fire extinguisher stored away from the stove top is another choice but it is only temporary and you cannot be close to the pot when you discharge it. I have seen over and over where people pick up the pan or pot and end up spilling the burning hot grease on themselves trying to carry it out doors. It is devastating how the grease damages the skin where ever it touches. In just a few seconds it can change or end your life. Another danger is liquids in the microwave. When you raise the temperature of a liquid in the microwave to a temperature near its boiling point, the liquid is ready to release energy in some fashion. Sometimes just to disturb the surface you can cause the liquid to erupt and splash violently. The temperature is high enough to damage skin and scar. It is a good idea to let it cool before touching the vessel and look away when you first remove it from the microwave.***


People ask about baking soda. Baking soda does work and is effective. The bicarbonate in the soda releases carbon dioxide, CO2, which is the component inside CO2 fire extinguishers. The CO2 displaces the oxygen that the flames require to maintain combustion. The problem is that it is hard to “throw” the baking soda and you may very well accidentally use the wrong powder in the excitement of the moment. The damp towel does the same thing as it takes away the fresh supply of oxygen and depletes quickly what is available under the towel. The heat is still there which is why you turn off the stove eye and wait until the grease temperature lowers and is more stable.***


     Although this post focuses on kitchen hot oil fires, other forms of kitchen fires are equally tragic.

When I returned to Pennsylvania after being away for three weeks a friend of mine, Jan, related that she had lost a friend and neighbor in her apartment building.

On February 24 Bonnie Yohman, 76, died due to a kitchen fire.

Yohman suffered burns over more than 40 percent of her body in a fire reported at 12:16 p.m. Tuesday in her apartment…”We were able to reconstruct the scene to see what happened since she was alone at the time,” Mt. Pleasant fire Chief Jerry Lucia said. “She apparently was boiling eggs and when she turned the burner off, some of her clothing came in contact with the hot burner and ignited.” **



Christmas…A Time When Safety is Overlooked:



**Mt. Pleasant woman, 76, dies of injuries from Tuesday Fire, Marilyn Forbes for the Daily Courier, Connellsville, (PA), February 24, 2012





  1. These are all great tips on fighting grease fires. They can be so dangerious, because out first reaction is one of the most wrong ways to fight it.

    Comment by John L — May 12, 2012 @ 12:51 pm | Reply

    • That’s correct, John. Most people turn to water, expecting it to work, when it only causes the oil fire to explode. Most adults over twenty years old don’t know this. It’s not surprising that a younger person is inexperienced. Thanks for commenting.
      Carolyn Cornell Holland

      Comment by carolyncholland — May 12, 2012 @ 4:59 pm | Reply

  2. Update on Samantha – She is in Illinois, arriving there with the help of family and the kindness of Delta Airlines pilots and stewardess’s. She has many months of surgeries, therapy, and healing ahead but she is now where she can receive the best we can get. The goal is to hope someday she can walk again, and perhaps regain some use of her right arm. Thanks to all who have kept her in your prayers, sent cards, and thought of her. Fran – Sam’s grandmother

    Comment by Fran — July 19, 2012 @ 9:44 am | Reply

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