Not all fires are the same. The most instinctively obvious way to address a fire is to pour water on it, but with some types of fires, water can actually make things worse – and in several ways. Possibly the most notorious type of fire that’s immune to water is a grease fire, usually resulting from unsafe and haphazard cooking habits.
Kitchen fires are incredibly common and remain the most common root cause of house fires in the United States. If you encounter a grease fire, would you know how to properly respond to it? In this guide, we’ll discuss exactly what you need to do.
Preventing Grease Fires
It’s important to know how to respond to a grease fire, but it’s even more important to try and prevent grease fires from ever occurring. These are some of the best ways you can do it:
- Have a fire suppression plan. A fire suppression system can kick in and immediately extinguish the fire the moment the fire is detected. This is especially important to have in commercial kitchens, which see daily activity and frequently house thousands of dollars of equipment. In a residential kitchen, you should at least have a fire extinguisher approved for grease fires nearby.
- Purchase smoke alarms. It’s also a good idea do you have smoke detectors installed throughout the house or building. If these devices detect excessive quantities of smoke, they’ll resound with a loud noise that alerts people to leave the premises.
- Keep flames low. When cooking on a stovetop, keep the flames relatively low. They should not creep over the sides of the pans you’re using, nor should they have the potential to catch other things on fire in the nearby area. Use the lowest setting possible for your needs and watch the flames carefully.
- Never leave the kitchen unattended. A disproportionate number of grease fires begin when the cook isn’t watching. Without supervision, the grease can reach an unsafe temperature or the flames could easily spread. While cooking, never leave your kitchen unattended.
- Use deep fryers and frying pans carefully. Deep fryers and frying pans are useful tools to make delicious foods, but they also pose a higher risk of starting a grease fire. Use these tools very carefully and understand the risks involved. Drop in food gently and deliberately and don’t allow untrained people to handle this equipment without supervision.
Responding to a Grease Fire
If your preventative measures fail and you come face to face with a grease fire, these are the most important steps to take.
- Stay calm. The sight of uncontrolled flames will trigger a panicked response in most people, but it’s important to remain as calm as possible. Grease fires can get worse if you respond to them inappropriately, so take a deep breath and try to respond to the situation as deliberately and logically as possible.
- Turn off the heat. Your first step should be to turn off the heat completely. Don’t try to extinguish the fire while the stove or deep fryer is still on.
- Do not use water. We mentioned this at the beginning of the article, but it bears repeating: do not use water to attempt to extinguish a grease fire. Dousing grease flames with water will not put out the fire; in fact, it could cause the grease to splatter, ultimately amplifying the flames and encouraging the fire to spread faster.
- Do not fan the flames. Similarly, you should not fan the flames. Doing so provides more oxygen that the fire can use as fuel to burn and could also cause grease splatter that forces the fire to spread.
- Do not use flour. Some fires can be extinguished with a dusting of powder, and you may notice that flour does have a resemblance to the powder that comes out of fire extinguishers. However, you should never use flour to extinguish a grease fire.
- Use a lid to snuff the flame. Instead, the best way to control the flame and potentially extinguish it is to cover it with a lid, preferably a tight-fitting one, that can starve the fire of oxygen.
- Use a properly rated fire extinguisher. Failing that, consider using a properly rated fire extinguisher (since not all fire extinguishers are approved for grease fires).
- Be prepared to leave and call for help. If the fire can’t be controlled, exit the house immediately and call for emergency services.
Grease fires have the potential to burn down your entire house. In a worst-case scenario, you could be seriously injured or killed. That’s why it’s so important to practice safe cooking habits when you’re in the kitchen and remember the most important pieces of advice for how to extinguish or control the grease fire.