Kitchen Fires: Disaster-proofing your home - | WBTV Charlotte

Kitchen Fires: Disaster-proofing your home

(Brian Stephenson | WBTV) (Brian Stephenson | WBTV)

Kitchen fires are a big problem. So big that roughly a third of all fires - 34% - responded to by the Charlotte Fire Department last year started in the kitchen. They remain the leading cause of fires in the nation and have been for the past 10 years.

"You would think cooking fires happen at meal times. Often in our county, though, they happen late and night. 11 p.m., 12 a.m., 1 a.m. when people come home from partying. They are drunk, hungry, they start something on the stove and fall asleep on the couch and forget about it," said Jon Williams.

Williams is the Deputy Fire Marshall in Union County. He says in many cases homeowners still aren't sure how to douse grease fires, but they are very preventable.

We worked with Williams, along with the Wingate Fire Department, to show how destructive a grease fire can be, how quickly it can spread, and how not to extinguish one in your kitchen. We were inside a home donated to the department for training purposes.

Using water isn't the right idea. It can cause the fire to flare and you could be seriously burned.

The best plan is to keep nearby a sheet pan that covers the entire surface of the pan of grease on the stove. If a fire starts, simply slide the sheet pan over the top of the pan filled with grease, as long as you can do so safely, and it will smother the majority of the flames. Then turn off the burner and call 911.

That doesn't always work though, as evidenced by our test.

We also tested a product called StoveTop FireStop which attaches under a vent hood and sprays down a chemical fire retardant if flames get too high on the stove. It promises to help prevent costly repairs and property loss. They cost between $50 and $60. There are other similar products on the market made by other manufacturers.

The Charlotte Housing authority installed one brand in more than 300 units in 2013. They say they have assisted some in slowing down a few fires, but the sprinkler system still activates in the unit and floods out the fire.

In our two tests the devices deployed properly and did briefly slow the progress of the fire. Still, the fire continued to burn.

We asked the manufacturer of the StoveTop FireStop devices about our test. They said the devices are not meant for deep frying and we may have had too much oil in the pan for the volume of power the products dispense to neutralize and keep out the fire. A representative also reminded us to share with viewers that it is important to install the devices properly and that mounting them too far back in the hood doesn't provide proper coverage to all burners.

"For the cost, you can put them up there, and it will make a mess but it is cheaper than remodeling a house. I think it would be a good resource," Williams said. "But honestly, we don't mind coming out in any circumstance, so your best bet always is to call 911."

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