Why Apartment Cooking Fires Are So Dangerous

When it comes to apartment buildings, the kitchen truly is the most dangerous room in the home. 

Even though incidents of apartment fires have dropped by more than 20% since 1980, according to the National Fire Protection Agency, and deaths from apartment fires dropped by 40% during that time, apartment cooking fires still remain the greatest safety threat for tenants. 

When compared to any other cause of fire in apartments, cooking has a distinct lead. And even though cooking fires are a danger in one- or two-family dwellings, apartments have double the rate of cooking fires. What makes them more dangerous is that one person’s fire, if not contained immediately, can spread through a building and affect other units and tenants. 

Learning why cooking fires are so prevalent in apartments and knowing what options are available for preventing them are important first steps. But it’s also critical to be able to educate tenants on what they can do if an apartment cooking fire breaks out.

What Makes Kitchens So Dangerous?

Kitchens are used daily by household members of all ages, so it’s easy to forget the many dangers that can be found there. People decide to cook when they’re sleepy, when they’re intoxicated and when they’re distracted. And all those things can be just as dangerous in the kitchen as they are behind the wheel of a car.

Here are five things that make kitchens particularly dangerous:

  1. Unattended active burners. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of kitchen fires. People may step away to make a phone call, use the bathroom or check on the kids, thinking they have plenty of time to return to whatever is simmering on the stove. That mistake, all too often, turns out to be a costly one. Hot oil can catch on fire quickly and, if not suppressed immediately, will quickly spread.
  2. Combustible items nearby. Potholders, kitchen towels, paper towels — the kitchen is home to many materials that can help fuel a fire once it starts. And, since most people want to make their kitchen setup convenient for when they cook, it’s no surprise that they often put such things near the stovetop.
  3. Children, pets or too many people in the kitchen. The kitchen is famously popular as the hub of the house; how often have you attended a party that ends up in the kitchen? It’s the center of the home, the place to find food and drink — but when food is being cooked, it’s a hazard zone. 

Just a few of the accidents that can happen in the kitchen in these situations are having a pan of hot water, grease or food pulled off the stove by a child; tripping over a pet or small child and falling onto the hot range; getting clothing too close to an open flame and catching on fire. 

It’s important to note that clothing catching on fire only happens in 1% of kitchen cooking-related fires, but it is responsible for 16% of all cooking fire deaths.  

  1. Hot pans or handles. Grabbing a hot handle or pan can lead to dropping it or spilling its contents. And, if people use a damp towel or pad to pick up a hot pan by the handle, it transmits the heat and can lead to burns, dropping the pan and/or spilling the oil. 

As soon as that hot oil makes contact with a flame or hot burner, it can quickly ignite. If oil is poured out of the pan and some drips down the side — and then the pan is returned to the burner — that also can start a fire.

  1. Grease or oil residue. All grease spills and drips should be cleaned up as soon as they occur, because if ignored, they could lead to a fire the next time the stovetop or oven is turned on. Drip pans, a greasy exhaust hood or burner and even cookware with oil on the bottom can catch fire pretty quickly once a burner heats up.

Adding to the danger is that many people do not know how to react to a kitchen cooking fire. The NFPA reports that three out of five people who are injured during cooking fires received those injuries from trying to fight the fire themselves.

Finding the Safety Solution

Mitigating the dangers of possible kitchen fires depends upon having the right components in place. For starters, provide information on kitchen safety — and cooking safety in particular — to all tenants. Apartments are more likely than homes to have sprinkler systems in place, which gives them an advantage over single-family homes, but those sprinklers aren’t triggered until it detects a fire that is at least 155 degrees. That’s why it’s critical to have other safety measures as well. These include:

Smoke detectors. You know the saying; where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If someone has left the room and a cooking fire breaks out, a smoke detector will alert them. However, if they have left the apartment, or are asleep or passed out and can’t hear it — which is the cause of about one-third of cooking fire deaths — it’s of no use.

Fire extinguishers. Every kitchen should be equipped with a Class B fire extinguisher designed to put out fires on flammable liquids like grease and oil. However, it’s important that they know how to use it properly, since improper use has been linked to respiratory problems and even cardiac arrest.  

Fire suppression system. While both smoke detectors and fire extinguishers are important tools, they have limitations and depend on human intervention. StoveTop FireStop’s fire suppression system uses canisters that are mounted above the stove’s burners, either under the microwave or the range hood.

If a fire should break out on the range, StoveTop FireStop is activated when a flame comes in direct, sustained contact with the fuse. When activated it makes a loud “pop” noise to alert the tenant and releases a fine, dry powder over the flames to safely suppress the fire. Once the fire is safely suppressed the burner should be turned off. Since it is activated automatically, it doesn’t require human intervention.

While it’s not possible to make sure every tenant is doing what’s necessary to prevent kitchen cooking fires, there are steps you can take to safeguard apartments. Education, the proper tools and a powerful fire suppression system can help your building’s tenants from becoming the latest statistics in apartment cooking fires.