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Al on Kitchen Fires

okay, I had a kitchen first tonight

Posted by Kristina on 22:22:39 1/2/2003:

I was preheating my skillet to sear my steaks and put the oil in and it caught on fire. I got a lid on it and put it out, but was very embarrassed. Steve went next door and got my mom's skillet, and all was well. I now have a bunch of bubbled up cure on the bottom of my pan and am going to take it to my grandma's and burn the rest of the cure off in her fireplace. I didn't freak out, in fact, I sort of stood there, and said "okay, that's on fire." Great first meal impression on my husband's business partner and his wife.

fun, fun


RE: okay, I had a kitchen first tonight

Posted by Al on 3:35:48 1/3/2003:


Ok ok ok - you've hit on one of my sore spots ...

When oil bursts into flames, believe it or not, it's not the OIL that's burning!

What happens is that you get the oil hot enough to smoke, and then it's the oil VAPOR in the smoke that burns. What probably happened was that you got a small spark, or a hot-spot on the pan that went to the flash point of the oil vapors.

As a matter of interest, have you recently gone to a gas stove from an electric? Gas stoves have that pretty constantly available source of ignition just below the pan, so you have to get used to watching oil smoke (and associated oil vapors) just a bit more carefully.

Once the fire starts, though, the heat from the combustion evaporates more of the oil, feeding the fire, which evaporates more oil, which feeds the fire, which evaporates more oil, etc.

Don't you just love these, "emerging patterns?"

To keep the fire going, you need heat, fuel and oxygen. To STOP the fire, you only have to remove ONE of the three!

Water does well on a LOT of types of fires, because it cuts off the oxygen and cools the combustible materials at the same time. That's why so many people throw water on an oil fire.


Oil floats on water, and hot oil even more so! Putting water on an oil fire just makes it spread out, still burning nicely, thank you! Also, since water boils vehemently at the burning temperature of oil, it will bubble and sizzle, throwing burning oil all over. All over the stove, all over the kitchen, all over Grandma's doily.


My mother told me that, in The Old Days, people would throw FLOUR on an oil fire!


Flour is, itself, a combustible powder, so it heats to its flash point VERY easily, sometimes with disastrous results. It's called a "Fuel-Air Explosive," and even now, grain elevators will blow up, breaking windows miles away, because a bit of dry, powdered grain (flour) got caught in the gears of the elevator and got too hot.

Some people throw baking soda (baking SODA! NOT baking POWDER!) on an oil fire. I wouldn't do this, but it's at least a sound idea. Baking soda is not combustible, and when heated, produces a LOT of carbon dioxide gas, which is heaver than air, so it blankets the pan, cutting off the oxygen from the burning materials.

It'll blanket the kitchen, too, cutting the oxygen off from anyone in the kitchen, too, I think (no PROOF, you understand, just I think ...). BUT: I can think of lots and LOTS of things I'd rather be than unconscious, laying on a kitchen floor with a pan full of flash-point hot oil still on the stove!!

Five Point Plan of What To Do,
from a Former Explosive Ordnance Disposal Specialist's
Point of View:


Step one: DO NOT PANIC! I know, I know: It's impossible NOT to get scared. Just don't let the adrenaline rule your actions. Think about this a few times. Imagine fire licking out of a frying pan and singing that antique lace doily your Grandma made. Imagine letting the fire burn while you try to save the doily. See you burning your hands? See you trying again to save to doily? See the doily fall and spread the fire? See yourself caught in that fire? NOW, think about you acting quickly and smoothly and calmly, putting out the fire, saving both the doily AND your skin! Imagination is a wonderful thing, if you use it correctly. Your, "Okay. That's on fire," attitude is exactly right!


Step two: Put out the fire IMMEDIATELY! CUT OFF THE OXYGEN!! (Again, exactly right) Put the lid (or A lid) on the pan. I have a pretty poorly equipped kitchen (due to the outrageously postagestampular nature of my kitchen) and every pan I have has a tight-fitting lid. Don't worry about spilling stuff out of the cupboard when you pull out the one lid you need. You have more important ... uhhh ... fish to fry.


Step three: Cut the HEAT! Turn off the stove burner (the most likely source if ignition) and SLIDE (not CARRY. Not PULL. Not YANK. SLIDE!) the pan off of the burner. If you aren't confident in your ability to move the pan without disturbing the lid, LEAVE IT THERE, but DO cut the heat!


Step three-pont-five: Grab the kitchen fire extinguisher. As of now, you SHOULD be pretty safe. If, for any reason, the fire is still burning, pull the pin on your nice, Class ABC Fire Extinguisher (you DO have a Class ABC Fire Extinguisher in your kitchen, don't you? You DO know where it is, don't you?? You have read and reviewed the operating instructions, haven't you??? You INSPECT it, or HAVE it inspected about every 6 months, don't you????) step a few feet back so you don't blow burning oil all over, aim it at the BASE of the flames and, directing it back and forth (NOT up and down!!) over the entire base of the fire, let it rip. You can NOT save any of the chemical, so EMPTY it at the fire. Don't just assume that it's out!


Step four: Get somewhere SAFE! Grab the phone (and keep the fire extinguisher with you, if you didn't have to use it) and go to an exit. Front door. Back door. The french windows. Whatever. Yes, you've dealt with the immediate danger, but, "Bad Things Happen™," and it's better that they happen a goodly distance AWAY from you, and better yet if they happen in such a way that you can get even further away on short notice. In this case, "you" is a plural: Get EVERYONE IN THE BUILDING close to exits. If you live in an appartment building, make arrangements to warn your neighbors.


Step five: WAIT! The oil will cool down in its OWN time, and there isn't much you can do to speed it up without exposing yourself to risk. Sit on the front porch and appreciate the clean, crisp air and how TRULY wonderful it feels NOT to be set on fire! Keep the phone available. If you can't get the phone out of the kitchen, go to a neighbor's and keep an eye on things from there. If, for ANY reason, things kick back up in your kitchen, call 911 and report the fire. Do NOT go back in. You've done everything you can do, as of right now, and it's the professionals' turn.

And it's NOT a matter of scale. A basic understanding of Murphology (The study of Murphy's (or Finagle's) Law... Postulate: The perversity of the universe tends to a maximum. First corollary: Anything that CAN go wrong WILL go wrong. Second corollary: Of a number of things that CAN go wrong, the one that WILL go wrong will be the one that will do the most damage.), as encapsulated in the previously-used, "Bad Things Happen™," demands that you be READY to do all this stuff, even if you don't HAVE to do all this stuff.

The tricks here are simple:
First: Prepare. Know what to do, what to do it with, where to go, and know your options. Nothing enhances your self confidence like preparation. One of the BEST things about flambe'd food, in my opinion, is getting used to the idea of fires occurring in a pan. Imagine the fire, imagine the solution, and imagine yourself during the process of applying that solution.


Second: All your stuff, no matter HOW precious, is just STUFF!! if you SURVIVE, you can always get MORE stuff, and any moneys not spent at the hospital for inhalation therapy, debreeding, skin grafts, physical and mental therapy, and long-term care will help you re-acquire stuff more rapidly. Get the people (and yes, pets count as people. At least in MY house they do.) to an exit.

Even that lace doily your Grandma made isn't worth the risk of having to learn how to walk through fire on short notice.

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Last Edited: 08/27/2010