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Fire Prevention Week focuses on cooking safety

Cooking is a daily task in many households – one that on the surface might seem to come with very little risk aside from a burnt meal or two. But if you are careless when cooking, you could end up serving flambéed house in place of dinner. 

As part of Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 8-14) the West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office and fire departments state and nationwide are reminding residents that “Cooking safety starts with you. Pay attention to fire prevention.” 

According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries in the United States. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires and deaths. 

The U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) says national estimates for residential building fires and losses in 2021 show that there were 353,500 fires, 2,840 deaths, 11,400 injuries and $8,855,900,000 in monetary losses. 

Of those fires, 170,000 were found to be caused by cooking resulting in 135 deaths, 3,000 injuries and $494,200,000 in damages. 

So far in 2023, the USFA is reporting 20 home fire fatalities in West Virginia, which includes one in Monongalia County back in April and one in Preston County just last month. The causes of this year’s fatal fires are still listed under investigation. 

“Year after year, cooking remains the leading cause of home fires by far, accounting for half of all U.S. home fires,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of outreach and advocacy at NFPA. “These numbers tell us that there is still much work to do when it comes to better educating the public about ways to stay safe when cooking.” 

The West Virginia State Fire Marshal’s Office shared a few key tips on home fire escape planning. The advice included always keeping an eye on what you are cooking, or even setting a timer to remind you of what you are doing. 

The fire marshals also suggest turning any pot handles toward the back of the stove and keeping a lid nearby to smother any would-be grease fires before they grow out of control. 

Anytime you are cooking, the marshals suggest establishing a “kid- and pet-free zone” of at least three feet around the food prep area. 

The NFPA says to make sure to keep anything that can catch fire such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, or curtains away from the stovetop. 

Most cooking fires in the home will somehow involve the kitchen stove, according to NFPA, but with the growing popularity of electrical appliances like air fryers and slow cookers, countertop appliances should not be overlooked when it comes to fire safety. 

Air fryers, slow cookers, electric skillets, hot plates, griddles, etc., should be given plenty of space when in use and unplugged when not in use, NFPA suggests. With the exception of slow cookers, which were made to be on for hours at a time, electric appliances should not be left unattended. 

If a fire is small enough, you may decide to fight the fire. If grease is involved, NFPA says to smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan, turning off the burner and leaving the pan covered until it is completely cooled. For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.  

If you have any doubt about fighting a small fire, do not stay to find out – just get out and close the door behind you to help contain the fire. Call 911 or the local emergency number from outside the home. 

Since 1922, the NFPA has sponsored the public observance of Fire Prevention Week. In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance. It is now the longest-running public health observance in the country.  

According to NFPA, Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of Oct. 9 in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began Oct. 8, 1871, and killed more than 250 people and left hundreds of thousands homeless. 

Every year during Fire Prevention Week, children, adults and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of a fire. Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to decrease casualties caused by fires.