Umesh Lal, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer, says COVID-19 has kept more people at home, increasing the potential for kitchen fires. The fire department recommends several safety precautions. (Chris Bush/News Bulletin)

Try to serve up fire safety in the kitchen during Fire Prevention Week

Cooking mishaps the leading cause of burns and structure fires

With COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, families are spending more time at home, which means people are spending more of that time at home in the kitchen and increasing the potential for accidental burns and fires.

With a greater potential for kitchen mishaps, Nanaimo Fire Rescue’s theme for Fire Prevention Week 2020, Oct. 4-10, is Serve Up Fire Safety in the Kitchen.

Most burns and structure fires happen in the kitchen where there are multiple heat sources and plenty of potential for accidents.

“Seventy per cent of structure fires are caused in the kitchen and the No. 1 cause of kitchen fires is distracted or unattended cooking,” said Umesh Lal, fire prevention officer with Nanaimo Fire Rescue. “That could mean a lot of things … you put something on and then you leave the room and you forget about it, whether it be watching TV, dealing with family issues or you could come home and you’ve got the munchies for the 2 a.m. fries and, you know, you shouldn’t really be cooking. It could be any of those things.”

Sometimes people don’t leave the kitchen, but get distracted by a phone conversation, a game on their computer or cell phone and temporarily forget about what’s happening on the stove.

Sometimes fires break out by mistakenly entering the wrong time on a microwave oven, such as setting a bag of popcorn to cook for 23 minutes instead of 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

When fires happen, people often don’t know what to do to bring them under control.

For a fire in a microwave oven, Lal advises simply turning the unit off and not opening its door to prevent oxygen getting to the burning contents. With a stove, if the controls can be reached, turn off the elements to remove the heat source.

Be prepared for fire before cooking starts. A pan lid can be used to simply cover and smother a fire. Oven mitts protect against burns from hot pans and utensils.

“You should always have a lid and oven mitts, so you can smother something out that’s on fire,” Lal said. “You never throw water on grease fires, of course. You never move the pan because that’s a potential cause for injuries.”

It’s good to be prepared with basic equipment to control a fire, such as a fire extinguisher, oven mitts and a handy pan lid, but Lal also advises creating a minimum one-metre safe zone around the cooking area that can be kept free of small children, pets and tripping hazards. It’s not uncommon to be working at a stove to find the family dog underfoot, waiting for a treat.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo firefighters’ burn fund video wins people’s choice award

Lal said people don’t think fires can happen to them, “But all it takes is once and, unfortunately with burns, it’s a life-changing moment.”

If someone suffers a severe burn, place the affected area under cold running water immediately, have someone call 911, and keep the burned area under cold running water until help arrives. Do not apply bandages, ointments or ice.

The arrival of fall also means it’s a good time to test smoke alarms in homes and change their batteries, especially as outdoor temperatures become colder and people begin turning on their home heating systems and lighting wood stoves.

Lal recommends having heating systems serviced and chimneys cleaned before use.

According to the B.C. Professional Fire Fighters’ Burn Fund, 851 fires in B.C. last year started from cooking, accounting for close to one-third of all structure fires, as reported to the Office of the Fire Commissioner. As a result of these fires, 62 people were injured and $39 million worth of damage was caused.

“Be present and never leave cooking unattended. Cooking fires are entirely preventable if we all demonstrate more caution and take the simple steps to protect our families and homes,” says Gord Ditchburn, president of the burn fund, in a press release.

READ ALSO: Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer receives provincial award
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