I recently had a grease fire - the pan caught on fire from a little fat that spilled over the skillet. Is there a safe, quick way to put out a fire like this?
Steps to put out a grease fire
- Turn off source of heat (burner / element)
- Do NOT pour water on it
- let me say that again, Do NOT pour water on it
- Attempt to remove all oxygen from the flame. You can cover with another pot, or baking pan
- If you can't cover it, dump baking soda on it. (lots of it)
- Secret step number 6, if all else fails, use a fire extinguisher
I'm an arson investigator and I give classes to businesses with our fire extinguisher demo. The participants must supply their own fire extinguishers but they get to practice using them in a controlled environment. Here's the rules for kitchen/grease fires that I teach. When you have a grease fire the first step is to cover the pan. If the controls are on the front of the stove you should turn off the burner, but if the controls are on the back of the stove you don't want to risk a burn reaching for it until you've covered it. Next step...nothing. Leave it alone and let it cool up for quite a while. NEVER EVER EVER move the pan. Even after you've covered it. I can't tell you how many structure fires I've investigated because someone tried to move a burning pan of grease off of the burner. It's almost impossible to move a pan full of any liquid without sloshing or spilling it, then add the excitement of the fire and you're almost guaranteed to end up spreading grease everywhere. Grease and oil heat up to over 300 degrees F. so it will take quite some time to cool off but don't risk moving it. Keep it covered and it will cool off on it's own.
There have been several people mentioning all the "home remedies" to extinguishing grease fires. Never use the wet towel method. Water boils at 212 degrees F. and cooking oils are commonly used at temperatures well above that. The oil will quickly boil off the water in the towel and then you will be left with an oil soaked wick. Halon has been mostly restricted to a few specific fixed extinguishing systems and I haven't seen them used as portable fire extinguishers in a long time. Class B rated fire extinguishers probably won't be very effective due to the higher temperatures which is why Class K fire extinguishers have become the standard agent specifically for extinguishing grease fires. The extinguishing agent in Class K fire extinguishers can withstand the high temperatures and forms a soapy film on top of the grease, it acts like a lid restricting oxygen from the fuel. Class B fire extinguishers will work briefly but the high heat breaks down the agent before the grease can cool below it's ignition point and once the oxygen is allowed to mix with the grease vapors it will re-ignite. Dry Chemical fire extinguishers (not to be confused with dry powder which is for flammable metals) can work on grease fires, but as with most fire extinguishers the agent is expelled at high pressures that will usually splash the grease and spread the fire. Class K fire extinguishers expel the agent at much lower pressures which avoids the splashing effect. Water should never be used in a grease fire. Water boils at 212 degrees F. When it turns into a vapor it expands 1700 times its volume as liquid water. Since grease is well above this temperature when it is burning the water instantly boils and expands causing the grease to be thrown out of the container spreading the fire. Google some frozen turkey - turkey fryer videos to see examples of this.
Baking soda will work, if you can avoid splashing, which is why I don't recommend it. Dry Chemical fire extinguishers, commonly known as ABC fire extinguishers, usually have some form of sodium bicarbonate as the dry chemical agent. Never use flour, it's very flammable. I'm sure there are tons of YouTube videos of this for you to see. The problem with most powders are that when you get any substance in a small enough particle, lots of substances become flammable or explosive. 'Ladder 49' was based off of a grain silo fire which is a very real scenario. It was grain dust that was generated from pulverizing grain in the conveyor process of moving the grain around. Sugar is also explosive in dust form. Google the Georgia Imperial Sugar refinery explosion of 2008.
- Cover the fire with a lid or another pan to exclude oxygen from the grease vapors
- Turn off the burner or heat source
- Leave it alone until it has cooled off, Do not try to move it.
- Class K fire extinguishers were designed specifically for grease fires and are the only fire extinguisher recommended for use on grease fires.
- Don't use household powders, most are flammable/explosive when the particles are separated like they are when they are thrown. Google 'flour fireball'
I had a grease fire years ago while using my first electric stove. I dumped most of a box of baking soda on it with no visible effect; my wife ran in and hit it with a Halon fire extinguisher, which actually spread the grease and fire against the wall behind the stove! I called 911, and the dispatcher told me to dump salt on the fire. I did - about a cup - and it killed the fire almost instantly.
Baking soda puts out fires by releasing carbon dioxide and smothering the fire, but if your fire is burning violently enough, the convection created by the fire pulls in enough oxygen to offset the smothering effect. Smothering with baking soda could work if you had a bucket of baking soda, but a little refrigerator-size box won't cut it, as I learned through experience. Salt, on the other hand, apparently is a great absorber of heat for its volume. It sucks so much heat out of the grease that it simply can't support combustion anymore.
- Never, ever use a pressurized fire extinguisher on a grease fire.
- Baking soda is probably not going to do the trick.
- Salt is your friend.
It's been twenty-some years, and I've never had a kitchen fire since (knock on wood!), but I still make sure to have a box of salt within reach whenever I fry anything.
I like the Mythbusters version of why you shouldn't do this better. (First 20 seconds of the video, for scary firey plume montage)
When you add water, it flashes instantly to steam and blows molten oil high into the air, where, suddenly in an O2 rich environment, it bursts into flame. Impressive, and something you never want to happen in your kitchen.
Buy yourself a high quality fire extinguisher, and learn how to turn off the electricity/gas at the source. You can try to smother it, but honestly I don't recommend it if it's anything to really worry about. Oil in a pan isn't going to burn that high. Oil accidentally knocked on the floor is going to burn your whole house.
Turn off the heat source, and wait until the flames subside. Do not move the pan. Do not put anything on or near it that may burn. Do not do anything that might splash oil out of the pan. When the oil is hot enough to burn, you don't want it out of the pan under ANY circumstances...It will IMMEDIATELY burst into flame.
Smother with lid, fire blanket or wet (wet you plonker!) cloth. Then, yes, use the extinguisher.
On the extinguisher front:
Yes, you can use an extinguisher to put out grease fires, but be careful. There are different kinds of extinguishers. Check that the one in your kitchen (or the one you're likely to use) is the right kind before any kind of fire.
Water extinguisher: Fortunately there aren't too many of these around now. Water extinguishers should NEVER be used in a kitchen. Between grease fires and electrical fires, it's almost universally the wrong extinguisher to use.
CO2 - (High pressure carbon dioxide) Extinguisher: These are the most common you'll find, and recognizable by the big "horn" dispenser. CO2 extinguishers work by removing oxygen, but can disperse quite quickly. They are also under pressure, so don't get too close to the source of fire when using a CO2 extinguisher. You don't want to "blow" the oil out of the pan. The big plus with this type of extinguisher is that the CO2 evaporates (it makes a kind of CO2 snow) so very little damage is done other than damage caused by the fire. Caveat: These extinguishers can be useless outdoors, or in highly ventilated environments. CO2 is great for really small indoor fires before they get out control. The "snow" coming out the extinguisher is cold (think dry ice) and some stuff (especially electronics) doesn't like the extreme cold, but on balance it's the best indoor extinguisher, though like all pressurized extinguishers, dangerous if improperly sprayed directly at burning liquid.
Dry-Powder Extinguisher (The powder is usually bicarb): These extinguishers works by removing the oxygen and smothering the fire. They are good for outdoors, and work on pretty much any kind of (small) fire, including kitchen fires and electrical fires. However, the retardant doesn't evaporate, and powder extinguishers do make a mess. A 9 kg extinguisher (typical size) contains 9 kg of bicarb. While these extinguishers have a "trigger nozzle", they are notoriously leaky, so once started most of the 9 kg is going to be released. Also dry-powder extinguishers need regular (annual) servicing to prevent the contents from caking and rendering the extinguisher useless.
Obscure extinguishers: Halon and BCF extinguishers were popular because they have all the benefits of CO2, but aren't "cold," so they're a lot kinder to electronics. They're also CFCs, which have gone out of fashion for environmental reasons. And both are brutally expensive compared to CO2. Unless saving the electronics is critical, like say on a nuclear submarine, they're overkill for a home or office environment.
Bottom line: In a home situation I would recommend CO2 for most rooms, plus Dry-Powder for the kitchen.
Most importantly - if you use an extinguisher, remove the heat source as well. In the case of CO2 if the fuel is still hot, then it can reignite when the CO2 dissipates.
Lastly - after any extinguisher has been used - even for just a squirt - it must be replaced. Water and Dry Powder are "one-use" extinguishers, even with a trigger, and while control on a CO2 extinguisher is much better it must, must, must be replaced (recharged) after even a single use.
Do not use water.
You have to suffocate it. Turn off the burner (obviously), Find a tight fitting pan lid and put it over the flame tightly. If it's on the stove and not in a pan, you can still use a pan lid to suffocate it, you just might have to get a little creative about how you cover it. A pan, wok or any sturdy, non-flammable cover would work as well. Anything that can cut off their air supply.
Fire extinguishers will work as well if it's too big to fit under a pan lid, pan or other handy cover. If you don't have a fire extinguisher and it's that big... call 911 (or your location's equivalent), you're in trouble.
First of all try to stay calm so you can make sound decisions. I had a pan of bacon grease spill all over the bottom of my oven so i turned it off and figured it would burn off....that is until it started to get too big for comfort. Meanwhile, i quickly drenched and totally saturated several kitchen rags and towels, and carefully opened oven. With oven mittens i quickly removed the racks and without the racks in the way, took each corner of the kitchen towel and tried to lay it evenly over the bottom of the oven. Did that with two staurated towels and the fire went out instantly. I then removed towels and after my heart rate went back to normal, i turned the oven back on andmonitored that the fire would not come back. All was good. No fire came back.