“My oil just burst into flame! What do I do? Help! What do I do?”
The first time a kitchen fire occurs can be terrifying. Actually, anytime it happens is scary, but the panic level escalates in proportion to the experience level.
I’ve heard it said that mentally rehearsing an event three times gives the same benefit as experiencing it once. I’d like to tell you a story in the hopes this is true. Perhaps safely reliving my experience a few times will prepare you to handle similar experiences. If they happen. Which I hope they don’t.
I put about a half inch of oil in a pan, lit the burner and put on the lid. I’ve done this a thousand times before. I’m not sure what was different about this time, but something made the pan burst into flame. The loose-fitting glass lid, with it’s steam vent hole was not air-tight enough to smother the fire, so the flames licked up and around the lid, reaching for the wall and cabinets.
Would your first reaction be to throw water on that fire? Don’t! Please don’t ever throw water onto a grease fire. It will only make it worse. A lot worse. You must smother a grease fire. A fire extinguisher is preferred, bu they are not always available. (I keep a small one in my kitchen at home, but I’m renting in China now. There is no extinguisher in this house.)
I knew the only way to put it was to smother it, so I ran to find a towel, preferably one I didn’t mind loosing if irreparably damaged. (Yes, I was still thinking that coherently.) I found one and rushed back to the kitchen to throw it over the fire. At first it looked like that would put it out, but then the flames started licking at the edges of the towel. (Panic danced through my mind, but I forced myself to ignore it.) I pulled the towel away from the flame, praying it didn’t catch fire. The towel was safe, but the fire still blazed in the pot, stretching fiery fingers up the wall. (I’m so glad the walls in this kitchen are tile-covered cement!) I tried again to cover the fire with the towel. Again, the flames sought a way around the edges. Again, I pulled away just before the towel could ignite. I did this about 4 times, with Panic screaming more insistently each time. Finally, I noticed the flames getting smaller. (And glared Panic down with that fact.) Another two towel smothers and the fire died. Whew!
Now I could put on the vent fan and try to get rid of the smoke. (Goodness! The smoke! It filled the kitchen, laundry room and living room from ceiling to shoulders!) I’d almost turned on the vent fan while still fighting the fire. Just as I reached for it, though, I realized it would only create a draft and feed the fire. (Obviously that was before my attention was consumed with ignoring Panic.)
If only I’d had enough presence of mind to shut the door to the kitchen. While not an air-tight seal, perhaps it would have kept most of the smoke in the kitchen and laundry room. Then again, maybe that would have been worse. I would inhaled more harmful smoke. As it was, with the smoke rising to the ceiling, I had mostly clear air to breathe while I fought the fire. Once the fire (and Panic) was driven away, my presence of mind returned and I fetched a wet hand towel to breathe through while I tackled the smoke. (A thank you nod to a favorite TV show for that tidbit of knowledge. And goodbye to any lingering guilt for wasting time watching it. )
My stove vent fan is pretty powerful. It had the kitchen and laundry room clear of smoke long before open windows and fans cleared the rest of the house. Now off to clean up the mess. Thankfully, the walls beside the stove are tile. The smoke didn’t damage the other walls.
I tell you this story because I realize many of my readers would have no idea how to handle a kitchen fire. I want my experience to give you the knowledge you need if you ever have to put out a kitchen fire.
First, most important rule: NEVER, EVER, EVER throw water onto a grease/oil fire. The water will sink beneath the oil, begin to boil and create an explosion of hot oil and water. Remember: NO WATER on a kitchen fire. You must smother the fire.
Second: Wrap a wet towel around your nose and mouth so the smoke is filtered out of the air you breathe. This will minimize, or eliminate, any harmful effects of inhaling the smoke-filled air. (And, since smoke rises, stay under the cloud of smoke as much as possible.)
Third: Don’t panic. Panic removes your ability to think rationally. Use the adrenaline (energy) rush of panic to handle the emergency, but do not give into the emotion.
I hope you never need this knowledge. I just as fervently hope that if you do, you remember this blog and are able to use this knowledge to kick Panic’s butt as you handle the emergency.
Now, go read through this two more times to solidify it in your memory.