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Firefighters offer prevention tips

By Staff | Feb 27, 2010

When Cape Coral resident Jeany Laurenti’s daughter noticed a fire inside their oven one late Sunday afternoon, the 18-year-old alerted the others in the home and immediately called for help.
“My daughter saw the flames,” Laurenti said. “She called 911.”
The oven was on and preheating, as the family had several people over for a party and was preparing to cook. She said the family had never experienced a kitchen fire before, so when her daughter, Yanelis Laurenti, saw the fire she became alarmed.
“My daughter got in a panic,” Laurenti said.
The family opened the oven, saw the flames and quickly closed the door. They turned off the appliance and, fortunately, the fire went out. Laurenti said her daughter still insisted on calling 911, although Laurenti said she knew it was “just a grease fire.”
When the Cape fire units arrived at the home at 726 Southeast 11th Place, the firefighters looked the oven over. According to Laurenti, the oven sustained no damage and the fire did not spread outside the appliance.
“They just checked the oven, and they said everything was OK, everything was working fine,” she said.
The firefighters opened the windows of the home and they used large fans to blow the lingering smoke from the oven fire out of the house.
“They said it was good that we called because there was a lot of smoke,” Laurenti said. “They said we did the right thing, turning the oven off.”
Some residents are not so lucky.
According to information from the Cape Coral Fire Department, a house fire Feb. 8 at 1316 S.E. 28th Terrace caused $60,000 in damage and started as a result of unattended cooking. Two days later, an unattended cooking fire caused $11,000 in damage to a home at 1454 S.E. 12th Terrace.
Dave Webster, a public education specialist and investigator with the Cape fire department, reports that 27 calls about residential structure fires were received between Jan. 19 and Feb. 17. Of those calls, 16 required some action on the part of the responding firefighters.
He added that seven of the fires involved significant monetary loss to the home, and six of those fires were determined to have started in the kitchen.
“More fires are caused in the kitchen than anywhere else,” Webster said. “It’s the No. 1 room with a heat source.”
In one case, a grandmother turned the stove top on and put oil in pan to heat it up to cook. She left to use the bathroom and when she returned the oil had ignited and the pan was on fire.
“When she came back, the stove was on fire. It was that quick,” he said.
The fire caused $400 worth of damage.
The U.S. Fire Administration and the National Fire Protection Association reports that three in 10 recorded home fires start in the kitchen, more than any other place in the home. Unattended cooking causes nearly 90 percent of all kitchen fires, and cooking fires are the No. 1 cause of home fire injuries.
According to Webster, kitchen fires tend to start with the same scenario. People turn the stove, oven or microwave on to cook or begin cooking, then walk away thinking that they have time to do other things and that “they’re in control of their cooking.”
“Cooking is such an everyday occurrence that we don’t put a lot of emphasis on it. It’s automatic,” he said. “But cooking has to be your primary focus.”
For those with children or pets, the National Fire Protection Association recommends creating a 3-foot safety zone around the stove or oven while cooking. Webster referred it as the “no play zone,” and added that people should use the rear burners on the stove top before using the front ones.
Handles on pans and pots should also face inward, not out over the edge.
“Kids have the potential to grab the handle and pulls it down,” he said.
People should also have a pot holder and pan lid nearby when cooking on the stove. If a fire ignites in the pan, they can quickly place the lid over the pan, cutting off the oxygen and killing the fire, Webster said. The pot holder can offer protection from the flames while putting the lid on the pan.
He added that throwing baking soda or flour on a pan fire is messy and not as effective as simply covering the pan with a lid.
“If you can put a lid on it, put a lid on it,” Webster said.
If the fire is too large, people can use a fire extinguisher. Every home should have one, he said, and the extinguisher should be located on a wall next to an exit. This makes it easily accessible and places it near an easy escape route.
Do not put a fire extinguisher under a sink with household cleaners.
“If there is a fire, you don’t have time to go digging around under the sink for it,” Webster said.
The fire department does not recommend that residents attempt to fight a fire on their own. But if they choose to, residents should position themselves between the fire and an exit so “they’ve still got a way out” in case the fire gets too out of hand to put out with an extinguisher.
“What if it doesn’t work?” he asked. “What if it’s too small for the fire?”
Residents also should first call 911. According to Webster, a fire doubles in size every 30 seconds and it takes minutes for fire units to reach a home. If residents wait to call 911, they would lose more of their home to smoke or fire damage than if they had immediately called after finding the fire.
For residents who are successful in putting out the fire, Webster encourages them to still call 911. Firefighters can make sure the fire did not spread to the ceiling or behind walls, and they can help remove smoke from the home, which can cause damage by discoloring the walls or leaving an odor behind.
“Because you think it’s out doesn’t mean it’s out,” he said.