A grease fire tragedy and how to avoid them

| July 10, 2013 | 0 Comments

It’s safe to say that French fries are one of the most popular fried foods, but if the correct safety measures are ignored, preparing them at home can be dangerous, even deadly. The reason: grease fires can engulf a room in mere seconds. French fries were at the root of a recent grease fire that burned down an apartment building in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Kalamazoo Fire Fighter

Firefighters rush to the scene to stop a fire in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

A fire burning

At around midnight on Saturday, June 29th, 55-year-old James Key poured grease into a skillet to make French fries. While waiting for it to warm up, he fell asleep on the couch. His girlfriend woke him up when she noticed that a fire had started in the kitchen.

“When she woke me up, I immediately got up and ran to get the fire extinguisher,” he said. “By that time, the kitchen roof was caving in.”

Unfortunately, the fire extinguisher was old and had a dysfunctional pull tab. Key was forced to drop it and leave. By this time, the fire was fully raging in the kitchen. He then raced outside to call 911 and alerted the tenants of the three other apartments in the building.

apartment fire

Grease fires can consume an apartment in seconds

“We could’ve all died,” Rosemary Ison, a building resident, said. “He was pounding all the doors to get us up.”

Aside from water-soaked furniture, Ison’s apartment didn’t suffer much damage. Key’s apartment and everything in it, however, was destroyed. The Red Cross assisted him with basic needs and set him up in a hotel for three days.

The apartment complex is likely to be condemned. According to Sgt. Jeff Mack of Kalamazoo’s Department of Public Safety, there isn’t a safe way to turn the electricity back on to power the building. Residents have already made plans to move out.

The do’s and don’ts of grease fires

As readers of this blog may know, from 2008-2010, cooking was the leading cause of all fires in residential buildings in the U.S., accounting for 45 percent of the residential building fires that received a fire department response. Oil, fat, and grease made up 51 percent of the ignited materials in these cases.

Our first instinct when a fire starts is to douse it with water, but putting water on a grease fire is a major don’t. One cup of water on a grease spill can cause a significant steam plume, and that mistake can trigger enough heat and flames to reach the back wall of a kitchen.

Instead, use a fire extinguisher to eliminate flames before turning off the stove. Installing a small Stovestop Firestop extinguisher over the vent hood of a stove is a smart idea. This handy device mounts over two burners, and can be found at stores like Lowe’s.

Remember, it takes seconds for a grease fire to take over an entire room, but you can put it out almost as quickly if you know how to act.

Grease Hog mat

The Grease Hog mat laps up spilled kitchen grease.

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