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Did You Ever Start a Kitchen Fire?


rgruby
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I've been in a kitchen where someone wasn't paying enough attention and the oil in a pan caught fire. Let me tell you, it doesn't take a whole lot of oil to make a big, nasty, freakin' scary fire. Thankfully in my case, we got it under control, nobody was hurt, it didn't cause any structural damage (although the grease in the vent hood flared up a few times after the main blaze was put out) and no real harm was done.

I'm not sure the same result would have been the case in a home setting - without industrial strength vent hoods and so on.

Many cookbooks advise heating the oil until it reaches the smoking point before adding food. Hot oil is important for achieving crisp outer layers and the nice browning and caramelization created by Maillard reactions. But how dangerous is this, particularly in a home context? How often are we creating fires.

So, just wondering if anybody out there has started a fire, why it happened (inattention at a bad moment, using a different brand/ kind of oil, new/ unfamiliar kitchen etc.), how they dealt with it. I don't particularly want to dredge up unpleasant memories/ experiences here - but I would like to know if home cooks are putting themselves in danger by attempting to heat oil to a high temperature without the experience to know when it is too hot. I think I tend to be on the overly cautious side and therefore don't get my oil quite as hot as I should before I add the food - I have a hard time getting fish skin not to stick, for example.

And, i did actually start a fire in my kitchen not too long ago. But in my microwave. I was nuking some pappadum on a paper towel. I'm guessing there was a bit of grease in the microwave, or possibly some metal in the paper towel, but in any event, the paper towel ignited. As soon as I noticed I pressed stop on the microwave, and let the fire consume itself. When it did I unplugged the microwave, and waited a while before I opened it. there was a bit of soot to clean up, but otherwise it doesn't seem to have impaired the nukebox.

Thanks,

Geoff Ruby

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Yes. A couple of weeks ago I had a grease fire. Did not want to get out the deep fryer so heated an inch or so of oil in a small LeCreuset pan. Usually I am paranoid when deep frying and never take my eyes or mind off what I am doing but I wasn't deep frying now was I? :hmmm: Anyhow, I took my attention off it, went down in the basement for one reason or another and just as I returned upstairs, it burst into flame. I grabbed the pan lid, jammed it on top, slid the pan off the hot burner onto a cold burner and waited until all the oxygen was used up inside the covered pan and it had cooled to a point where I could handle it. Meanwhile, of course, all the smoke alarms went into overdrive! No serious damage but the smell of burning oil lingered for days. I consider myself very lucky and I hope I will not be careless like that again.

Anna Nielsen aka "Anna N"

...I just let people know about something I made for supper that they might enjoy, too. That's all it is. (Nigel Slater)

"Cooking is about doing the best with what you have . . . and succeeding." John Thorne

Our 2012 (Kerry Beal and me) Blog

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too many times to count.......

My hood over the range is covered with these filters and a couple of the fires have actually disintegrated them. :shock:

a couple of unintentional flambes

a 1 or 2 grease fires

and a couple instances of dropped food catching on fire

I even had a wooden spoon catch on fire once....

Kristin Wagner, aka "torakris"

 

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Fires in the kitchen are just something an adventurous or ambitious home cook has to learn to live with ;).

I haven't caught a pan on fire yet, but I often have flare ups beneath my burners from spilled oil/other bits.

He don't mix meat and dairy,

He don't eat humble pie,

So sing a miserere

And hang the bastard high!

- Richard Wilbur and John LaTouche from Candide

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So, just wondering if anybody out there has started a fire, why it happened (inattention at a bad moment, using a different brand/ kind of oil, new/ unfamiliar kitchen etc.), how they dealt with it.

Oh, it was great. Day Ten of Asian Cuisines, breaking down the kitchen after service. Me, wiping lots of oil out of the steel-drum sized wok with a huge wad of paper towels. Doing what Chef said not to do: Turn the gas feed the wrong way. Paying attention to someone else as I took the oily papers in hand and used them to lift up on the handle of the wok to move it off the flame (which I thought was out). As soon as the flames shot out, the rag caught on fire. Must have gone up four feet for about five minutes. I thought I was going to set off the ansul.

My classmates ran to my aid and said "hey, you allright?" I said, "whew, I'm sure glad Chef _____ wasn't here to see this!" Dead silence. I turned around and him AND the Chef for my next block standing there, watching. Heh. I never lived it down.

"Oh, tuna. Tuna, tuna, tuna." -Andy Bernard, The Office
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Fires in the kitchen are just something an adventurous or ambitious home cook has to learn to live with ;).

Huh? :huh:

Wow, what an incredibly dangerous attitude.

In other words, I think you are completely wrong on this.

If someone writes a book about restaurants and nobody reads it, will it produce a 10 page thread?

Joe W

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I once caught the oil in a saute pan on fire. It happened really quickly. fortunately I was heating up a stockpot full of water for noodles on the next burner, so I just dropped the larger pot lid on the pan to smother the flames.

Now I keep a large lid on the pot rack, near the stove just in case..... :huh:

It definately taught me to kkeep an eye on things while I'm cooking.

.....and that magic eraser will take soot/light burn marks off of white painted cabinets... :rolleyes:

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Yes, roasting geese in the oven. I didn't notice that just a tip of one wing was over the side of the pan. That's all it took for the grease to drip down and start a fire. Got it put out quickly and the geese were fine. Unfortunately, the house was full of smoke and I was expecting 14 for dinner. Despite the chilly November weather, we had to open all doors and windows. The meal turned out lovely--I highly recommend Louisette Bertholle's recipe for November Goose with apple/calvados stuffing. :smile:

Deb

Liberty, MO

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Years ago, I started a fire in my high rise apartment... it was soooo stupid. I had a pizza box sitting on my gas stove, and used the stove to light a cigarette (thank God I'ven been a non-smoker for 6 years)... Must have somehow turned on the burner underneath the box.

Worst part was the fire tiggered the entire building's alarm system (14 floors!) and caused a massive evacuation. Fire Department showed up and even though I had put the fire out, they used their axes to chop up my kitchen to ensure the fire was not "lurking" in the walls....

Probably should have posted this on the "Stupidest Things You've Ever Done in the Kitchen Thread"!

"Anybody can make you enjoy the first bite of a dish, but only a real chef can make you enjoy the last.”

Francois Minot

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I started a grease fire (sausage grease) caused by heating the wrong burner. It took quite awhile for it to flame up (I'd say 8-10 minutes), so I think heating oil up to nearly smoking isn't a huge problem. My husband and I have overheated oil a few times and in one case sugar syrup (quite a bit of smoke from both oil and syrup) but never had any flames. We have a fire extinguisher just in case, though.

I think the biggest problem would be if someone had oil used several times and then heated to smoking, since the flash point would be quite a bit lower.

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Yup!

Fish 'n Chips @ home.

Got the flames out quickly but all the windows in the kitchen were frozen shut and I could barely see for smoke-not a happy camper that night.

Funny someone mentioned the charred wooden spoon-I did that just last night!

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Seen it twice in my life. Once, as a teenager, I put a little oil in a deep pan to make popcorn on top of the stove. Then went back in the den and got caught up in the game on TV. Oil burst in to flame on top of the stove. I freaked, but my Dad did as the earlier poster, just grabbed the lid (it was already out waiting for the popcorn making) and slammed it on, slid the pan off the hot burner. Good lesson for me about paying attenion to hot oil and fire control

The other time a good friend decided to broil some nachos in my folks' beach house oven. His mind wandered and he set the melting cheese on fire. I turned the broiler off and left the oven door closed. To his credit, he grabbed the fire extinguisher out of the pantry and was ready to let fly if necessary. It wasn't, just had to do some oven cleaning.

Makes you pay attention, though.

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Glad to see no serious reports of injury or damage.

I don't think fire extinguishers are a good idea on grease fires though - starving the fire by popping a lid on as several have suggested is the the way to go if you can. I believe the fire extinguisher in my place specifically says not to use it on grease fires. There may be other types of fire extinguisher that are ok for this though.

Cheers,

Geoff Ruby

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Glad to see no serious reports of injury or damage.

I don't think fire extinguishers are a good idea on grease fires though - starving the fire by popping a lid on as several have suggested is the the way to go if you can. I believe the fire extinguisher in my place specifically says not to use it on grease fires. There may be other types of fire extinguisher that are ok for this though.

We have a fire extinguisher that specifically says it is for use in the kitchen on grease fires. So they're out there.

My grandmother used to fry a lot of stuff (we're from Texas) so grease fires were a pretty common thing in her kitchen. Popping a lid over something works as long as the grease that is on fire is still in a pan; sometimes it ends up on the stovetop flaming. She used to use baking soda to extinguish stovetop grease fires. Worked like a charm and made cleanup easier too.

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-A friend and I were having a fry day a few years ago, and at the end of the day when it was time to let the oil cool down, we became impatient. Eventually my friend got the genius idea of putting an ice cube in the oil. A few minutes after placement very loud gurgles began coming from the oil (I'm sure some of you have experienced this) and soon the oil literally exploded, it shot up every where, covering the kitchen and splashing onto the burner directly next to it where it ignited a brief grease fire that was (luckily) no-where near as bad as it could have been. Anyway it took us a very long time to clean that up, and there is still oil in the seams between the granite slabs of my counter.

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Once, as a teenager, I put a little oil in a deep pan to make popcorn on top of the stove.  Then went back in the den and got caught up in the game on TV.  Oil burst in to flame on top of the stove. 

(tee hee) Me too.

But I was a complete idiot and didn't know what kind of oil to use to make the popcorn, so I used Karo syrup instead. Uh-huh. I set it on high and went outside to get the mail.

Came back to a blackened kitchen. When my mom came home, she laughed till she cried. "Karo syrup? You used Karo syrup to make popcorn?" She laughed a long, long time.

I am proud to say that I now make a mean bowl of popcorn.

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I'm definitely not in the "fires are part of home cooking" camp but rather in the "fires scare the shite out of me" camp. Here's the funny version of the tale from the "I Will Never Again..." thread. The less funny version involves what happened to my gastrointestinal system as a fireball shot out of the pan and exploded. :blink:

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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I've got another popcorn-making grease-fire disaster. I was going to pop popcorn in my tiny, 5th floor Manhattan apartment. I got a bit distracted and when I took the lid off the pan it burst into flames. Under the pressure of a flaming pan in a small apartment (with no venting hood) I panicked. Luckily I realized that it would be bad to involve water in the grease fire, but not being able to think of the proper solution at the time, and panicking about the smoke building up, getting ready to set off the hall fire alarm which sometimes called the fire department, I decided to hold the pan out the open window. I'm sure the neighbors and passersby were greatly amused. It took me quite some time, while holding a flaming pan out the window, to figure out that all I had to do was replace the lid and let the fire burn itself out. All's well that ends well.

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There have been more than once instance, but the most memorable was when I got the bright idea to add a little sweetness to my scallops in bacon, by drizzling them with maple syrup. Within minutes, they were on fire and spewing black smoke everywhere. Maple syrup near the top of a broiler is NOT a good idea. At least my grandparents learned that their smoke alarm does work.

:)

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Yep had a few fires in my cooking life. The couple of home fires were no big deal, took the pan off the burner and covered until out and another through into the oven and let it burn itself out.

The scary ones:

Many years ago when cooking professionally deep fryer and paper got to close. I didn't exactly start it but did try some stupid stuff to put it out. We finally got it under control.

The second one was a stupid me trick. Back yard Grill with winter leaves underneath. Hot grease drips and poof grill is now on fire. spreading towards the gas lines. Turned off the gas hooked up the water hose (seemed like it to forever) and got it out.

Never trust a skinny chef

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When we first moved up here, we lived in a small apartment until we could decide on our living quarters. I had brought just service for four of most items, a few pots and pans, and some "make-do" items of a really pretty pastel plastic, including several very large bowls which could be called on for lots of uses.

One afternoon I made a pot of tea, turned off the stove, set the kettle on a burner other than the hot one, and unthinkingly moved one of the big bowls onto the still-almost-glowing burner as I neatened up the kitchen before going to sit down with my tea.

Immediate smell of burnt chemicals, even faster POOF as the entire petroleum-based pink of the bowl burst into flames...I don't think a match could have combusted more quickly. It flamed toward the ceiling, with big floaty bits going off in several directions. I grabbed the extinguisher (first time I ever had to use one) and I KNOW I aimed it directly at that bowl. But somehow it shot the stove, surrounding cabinets, all cannisters, appliances and curtains full of the chokingest white powder in creation. Man, it poured out of there like a firehose.

It went EVERYWHERE. It took DAYS to get it all out of the kitchen, off the top of the fridge, out of drawers which had been closed during the spraying. The bowl itself was reduced to a tiny knob of pinky-gray gunk which immediately hardened down into and over the spiral of the stove burner, but it popped up with a little "smick" when I pried at it after it cooled.

And messy as it was, it was not the worst. Just a few weeks later, same apartment, same kitchen---and at the HEIGHT of Desert Storm, and just a few blocks from the huge Army base just down the street---on the very night we were watching all the people in Israel having to wear their gas masks at all times, we began to smell an odd, chemical odor in the living room. It grew worse; we looked at each other in dismay and beginnings of fear---there WAS that huge military base so close and all. We opened the doors and sniffed the outside air---nope, it was US. We opened the oven, checked the burners, and the smell grew even more pronounced. Open windows---open doors---we were choking. Our fellow tenants began to gather, wide-eyed and apprehensive, thinking Doom was come upon us. The smoke alarm was Wheek-Wheek-Wheeking, neighbors were gaping in the doors and windows, and we were dashing teary-eyed around that very small space in search of the source of that acrid, suffocating smell.

Hubby opened the dishwasher, and there was the culprit, a steak knife astraddle the heating coil in the bottom. Just the blade was left; the rest was a puddle of plastic in the bottom. Everyone laughed in relief, and we all stood around talking in our pajamas. We really began to get to know our neighbors that night, but I wouldn't recommend it for an ice-breaker.

And once I burned the tips of the pretty meringue on a lemon pie. I picked off the burnt parts and put it back in the oven to finish browning all over. This time, one of the children needed me for a moment, and I returned to find the pie a flaming, blackened mess. Hubby said I was probably the only woman in creation who could burn the same pie twice. :blink:

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I've had a couple of very small fires in the oven, but nothing I couldnt deal with.

My wife's grandmother, on the other hand. . . I always know when she's cooking because the fire alarm sounds. She's the only person I know who's set off the alarm cooking things like green beans. I have fond memories of that particular meal. Gram cooked the green beans and corn, and mother-in-law, who is a vegetarian, brought over a roast. It looked good, but when I tried to slice it, it was apparent that I was going to need a diamond covered masonry saw and some kind of industrial laser torch. That's when she told me that she "dry-roasted" the chuck roast. :huh: So, the fam and I had a lovely meal of gram's stove-charred green beans and MIL's chuck shoe leather. Being the devout carnivore I am, and not wanting to offend anyone, I ate the roast. My jaw was sore for a few days. After that, I offered to cook saturday lunch from now on.

"If you hear a voice within you say 'you cannot paint,' then by all means paint, and that voice will be silenced" - Vincent Van Gogh
 

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I've never had a kitchen fire, probably because fire scares the ever-living hell out of me. So I'm extremely careful.

But when I was a teenager, my mom caught a pot of oil on fire. Flames were shooting 3 feet up out of that pot, and thank God there were no cupboards or anything else over that stove. My mom stood there yelling as I grabbed a box of salt and extinguished the flames.

It took a lot of work to scrub the black soot off the wall and get all of the salt out of the stove, but my mom did that if I recall correctly. She was just happy that I reacted quickly, because she panicked and didn't know what the hell to do.

My mom also boiled a pot of eggs so dry that they exploded. We only found small bits and pieces of shell and egg. Where the rest of the eggs went, God only knows. I think they vaporized. :blink:

I don't mind the rat race, but I'd like more cheese.

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Maybe grandma was the only one that had silvery shiny wallpaper in her kitchen in the 70 but its a great way to keep an eye on the Flames shooting off the stove from the living room....french fries I think...many many grilled or rather Toasted cheese sandwiches turning into flame throwers in the toaster oven...ditto Elios frozen pizza toaster oven....someone came home drunk and hungry one night popped some in then went to bed.....kitchen towels too close to the stove...ummm but mumsie who tried to make frozen pierogis in an omlette pan half filled with oil soon needed to repaint her walls and ceiling.....my mama cant cook........

oooh how could I have forgotten

take an untrimmed 3 rib bone in roast add a friend who keeps his gas grill on the screen porch just to whip out a burger now and then mix in sub zero temps and lots of beer

there were flames shooting out of every crack and seem of that grill with the guys trying to wheel it out the door into the yard...got it outside (dont know how)

turned it off waited in T-shirts for the flames to die down extinguisher at our feet

grabbed the hunka hunka burnin love scraped and ate

that was some good meat still moist and juicy not rare exactly but tasty

better than the green bean cassarole the friend provided :rolleyes:

tracey

The great thing about barbeque is that when you get hungry 3 hours later....you can lick your fingers

Maxine

Avoid cutting yourself while slicing vegetables by getting someone else to hold them while you chop away.

"It is the government's fault, they've eaten everything."

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Here's my tale of woe to which any new mother and/or law student should be able to relate:

Four weeks post-partum with child #2 (She's LittleWing and is who turned me on to eGullet) and one week into my first semester of Law School, I put a pan on the strove to heat up oil to brown a chuck roast and COMPLETELY FORGOT about it. The smoke detector went off; my husband thought I had a brain tumor and I went to see a neurologist. Much later I realized that I had simply been underwater (New moms and some dads, you know what I mean). Just goes to show that home cooking has its own time and place and it's important to be able to identify them!

If more of us valued food & cheer & song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. - J.R.R. Tolkien
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