The #1 Cause of House Fires According to the Red Cross

Here are 12 ways to keep you, your family and your home safe, straight from the American Red Cross.

According to the Red Cross, the number one cause of house fires is…cooking. You might already have suspected as much if you watch TV’s This Is Us, which reminded us all that now’s a good time to brush up on slow cooker safety. Luckily, the Red Cross reached out to Taste of Home to let us know exactly what you can do to prevent a blaze from starting in the kitchen:

Turn the oven (and stove) OFF

It’s no surprise that when you’re done cooking, you’ll need to turn off your stove or oven. But 40% of people have forgotten to do exactly that, as we learned from Greta Gustafson at the Red Cross. Here’s a trick that always works for me: when you turn on the oven or stove, also turn on the exhaust fan. The noise will be a good reminder to turn off the fan, and when you do that, you’ll remember to turn off the oven/stove as well.

(You could simply whip up no-bake cookies, too!)

Stay in the kitchen when broiling, grilling, sautéeing or frying

Any kind of cooking that’s done quickly and involves a high open flame or a very hot exposed electrical coil requires your undivided attention. So…stay in the kitchen when doing things like making doughnuts. But if you must leave for any length of time (even a second), turn off the burner.

Stay home when simmering, baking, roasting or boiling

These types of cooking are done more slowly and at a lower heat, so you can leave the kitchen, but please don’t leave your house! It’s not only better for your cooking to be in the house where you can monitor the aromas, it’s also safer because if something were to go wrong, you’d be there to smell it and could quickly put a stop to it. The safest practice is to turn on a timer to remind yourself to check on your food.

Cook in the right clothing: nothing loose, and no dangling sleeves

Loose clothing and dangling sleeves can catch fire before you realize what’s happening. (Yikes!) That’s why it’s safer to wear clothing that’s closer to your skin.

Keep your cooking area clear of flammables

Keep anything flammable away from your stovetop, oven and any other appliance that generates heat. Flammable items include:

  • Paper napkins, towels and bags
  • Recipe print-outs, cards and books
  • Food packaging
  • Pot holders/mitts
  • Wood utensils
  • Towels
  • Curtains

Enforce a kid-free zone

Having your youngest kids underfoot can distract you. They can also move flammable items into the hot zone without your realizing it! So enforce a “kid-free zone” of three feet around the stove and oven. When you do bring kids into the kitchen, be sure you’re cooking kid-friendly recipes together.

Keep pets off cooking surfaces and counters

While Fido and Fluffy might be the cutest pets out there, they don’t understand fire safety. Try your best to train your pets to stay off the countertops and away from the oven and stove.

Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup

Grease is super-flammable. To be safe, keep all those tough surfaces clean. This is something we’re happy to help with! Here’s how to clean everything in your kitchen. You might also need our step-by-step guide for cleaning your oven hood/exhaust fan.

Use the right cooking oil

Every oil has its own unique smoke point (the temperature at which it starts to smoke), so use the right oil when cooking to keep your food from burning and potentially causing a fire.

Install a smoke alarm

You should have a smoke alarm on every level of your home, near your bedrooms and near where you cook. If you don’t have a smoke alarm near your kitchen, please get one, test it each month and replace all batteries once per year. The Red Cross has more details on smoke alarms.

Purchase a fire extinguisher

Fire extinguishers are the fastest way to stop a fire before it gets out of control, so keep one in your kitchen or pantry. They’re available for $20 to $25 and can last for years. They’re also easy to use but if you have any questions, check with your local fire department.

Put out small fires safely

If you’re cooking and a fire starts in a pan, slide a lid over the burning pan and turn off the burner. That way, no oxygen is feeding the fire. Leave the lid in place until the pan is completely cool. Moving the pan can cause serious injury or spread the fire. If it’s a grease fire, never use water; use your fire extinguisher.

The steps above may sound familiar to our most experienced cooks, but please pass them along to anyone who’s new in the kitchen.

Lauren Cahn
Lauren Cahn is a New York-based writer whose work has appeared regularly in The Huffington Post as well as a variety of other publications since 2008 on such topics as life and style, popular culture, law, religion, health, fitness, yoga, entertaining and entertainment. She is also a writer of crime fiction; her first full-length manuscript, The Trust Game, was short-listed for the 2017 CLUE Award for emerging talent in the genre of suspense fiction.