Cooking Fires

Cooking fires are a continuing problem; a national fire prevention association study finds fires caused by cooking are declining more slowly than home fires overall.

According to a new study released on January 20, 2005, by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), fires caused by cooking are the leading cause of home fires and home-fire injuries. Although cooking fires have been declining, they are declining at a much slower rate than home fires with other causes.

How Cooking Fires Occur
Home cooking fires typically occur because people leave cooking food unattended. Often the fire starts within the first 15 minutes of cooking, showing that there is no safe period of time to leave cooking food unattended. In 2002, the NFPA study found there were 156,500 home fires involving cooking equipment. These fires resulted in 331 civilian deaths, 4,914 civilian injuries, and $876 million in property damage. Minor cooking fires also cause hidden harm that often does not show up in the official tallies.

An independent survey found that each year there are 12.3 million cooking fires that are never reported to authorities which account for more than half of all unreported fires. In most cases, these unreported cooking fires were confined to the cooking materials that first caught fire. However, these fires are responsible for an estimated 642,000 injuries or illnesses each year.

Cooking fires are also dangerous because people use incorrect methods to extinguish them. Some fire suppression techniques, such as pouring water on a grease fire, can make matters worse. Cooking fires should be smothered by covering a pan with a lid or closing the oven door.

Stove Tops / Electric Ranges

One out of 3 cooking fires in 2002 involved the range, particularly the stove top. Electric ranges have a higher risk of fires and related injuries and property damage than gas ranges, but gas ranges have a slightly higher risk of fire deaths. Electric ranges have become more widely used in recent years. The percentage of households using gas ranges declined from 47.2% in 1980 to 39.7% in 2001. During the same period the percentage of households using electric ranges increased from 52.1% to 59.9%.

Steps to Reducing Cooking Fires
The NFPA recommends these steps to reduce the risk of cooking fires:
  • Make sure combustible items, such as rags, potholders, curtains, and bags, are kept far from the cooking surfaces.
  • Do not leave food on the stove top unattended and keep a close eye on food cooking inside the oven.
  • Do not cook if you are drowsy or feeling the effect of alcohol, medication, or other drugs.
  • Roll up sleeves and don’t wear loose-fitting clothing. If your clothes catch on fire, stop, drop, and roll until the fire is out.
  • Clean cooking equipment regularly to remove grease or cooking materials that can ignite.
  • Keep children and pets away from cooking areas by creating a 3-foot "kid-free zone" around the stove.
This information was reprinted from with permission from the National Fire Protection Association.