What Are the Main Causes of Fires in Kitchens?

As an apartment building owner, you’re doing everything possible to prevent fires in your building. To help create a sound strategy for prevention, it’s important to know the most common causes of kitchen fires.

Each year, fire departments in the U.S. respond to an average of 354,400 home fires. What’s interesting to note is that fires in single-family homes are often very different than those in multifamily dwellings. For example, multifamily buildings have a shared heating and air conditioning system, and since those are maintained by professionals, they have much fewer fires related to heating systems than single-family residences. They also have a much lower rate of fires related to chimneys, fireplaces or fireplace maintenance, since they are less likely to have individual fireplaces. And, thanks to the stringent building codes, they also have fewer electrical fires.

While that sounds like apartments are at a much lower risk for fires, there’s still one area where they are most likely to have a fire: the kitchen. A staggering 74 percent of fires in apartment buildings start in the kitchen, which is nearly twice the number of cooking fires seen in other residential buildings. On average, fire departments in the U.S. respond to an average of 471 cooking-related fires every day, according to the National Fire Prevention Association.

Let’s look at the possible causes of fire in the kitchen and how they can be prevented.

Who’s Starting Kitchen Fires?

Age and gender appear to play a role in the kitchen fires; in a five-year study by the NFPA, 56 percent of the people who died in cooking fires were over the age of 55. And, after the age of 85, the number of deaths from cooking fires increased dramatically. However, when it came to non-fatal cooking fire injuries, young adults between the ages of 20 and 34 were, by far, at highest risk.

While men spent the least amount of time in the kitchen every day, they were more likely than women to die in cooking fires. This was true up until the age of 75, at which time more women died in cooking fires than men, but researchers say this could be attributed to the fact that women live longer than men.

It’s not just who is doing the cooking, however, that indicates risk; the equipment they’re cooking with also makes a difference. Electric stoves are 2.5 times more likely than gas stoves to have a fire, and the losses associated with those fires are higher as well. The NFPA reported that fires started by electric ranges had almost four times the dollar amount loss than fires with gas ranges.

Three Main Causes of Kitchen Cooking Fires

Not surprisingly, the majority of kitchen fires are centered around the stove. Deep fryers, portable warming equipment and grease hoods share culpability for a smaller percentage of kitchen fires, but they are primarily started on the stovetop or in the oven.

The No. 1 cause of all cooking fires is leaving the stove unattended. Because cooking is something that is done daily, it’s easy to forget how dangerous it is to heat grease or oil at a high temperature. People oftentimes walk away from a hot stove “just for a minute” — and that “minute” can turn deadly. They may forget that they have hot grease on a burner, or their “one-minute task” might take longer than expected. So, it’s not surprising to learn that in fatal cooking fires, about one-fourth of the people who had started the fire were not in the room at the time it ignited.

Every oil has a flashpoint, which is the temperature at which it can catch on fire. When that happens, it can spread quickly, especially in the right environment. Nearly two-thirds of all cooking fires started with fat, oil or grease that caught on fire. If not tended to immediately — and properly — these fires can quickly get out of hand.

The second primary cause of cooking fires is combustible materials that are too close to the stove. For example, a small kitchen might have less counter space, so the area near the stove is used to hold everything from paper towels and oven mitts to food in plastic wrapping. All of these can ignite quickly and help the fire spread in moments.

Combustible materials should be kept at least three feet from the stove, and it’s a good idea to advise tenants to make sure there aren’t any towel racks, curtains or other flammable items near the range.

A third common cause of cooking fires comes from accidentally leaving a burner on — or unintentionally turning it on. If someone has cooked a meal, or even made a pot of tea, and leaves the burner on, it may end up igniting at some point. This can depend on what’s in the pot and how high the temperature is, but it is probably more common than you think.

How to Manage Apartment Kitchen Fires

You can provide tenants with as much safety information as possible, but that doesn’t guarantee they’ll follow it. That’s why it’s also important to keep the batteries in smoke alarms fresh and to periodically test the smoke alarms to make sure they are working properly.

It’s also critical to have a fire extinguisher in every kitchen. While this can make a huge difference in the outcome of a kitchen fire, it also depends on the tenant being (a) present, (b) knowledgeable about how to use it and (c) calm enough to use it properly.

Another option to ensure cooking safety is to install StoveTop FiresStop’s fire suppression system. StoveTop FireStop canisters are mounted above the stove’s burners, under either the microwave or the range hood. If a fire should break out on the range below, StoveTop FireStop is activated and it drops a fine, dry powder over the flames to quickly and safely suppress the fire.

At the same time, it releases a loud “pop” sound that alerts residents to the presence of a fire. FireStop is triggered in different ways, depending on which model has been installed:

  • Rangehood, Microhood, Plus or Plus LC – These original fuse-based units are activated when a direct, sustained flame makes contact with the fuse on the bottom of the canister
  • StoveTop Plus Sensor – This sensor-based unit relies on embedded sensors to detect the unique characteristics of a grease fire and extinguish it

When you want an automatic solution to cooking fires, StoveTop FiresStop provides a level of protection like no other. Since you can’t be sure that every resident consistently follows the rules when it comes to cooking, StoveTop FireStop provides a reliable, proven way to ensure their safety.