It takes just seconds. In the blink of an eye, your kitchen stove can go from a calm simmer to a boiling inferno. The end result is a fireball rolling across the ceiling on your home.
Your chances of facing this danger are higher than ever. The week of Thanksgiving is a time for traditions and togetherness -- but Thanksgiving Day is the peak day for cooking fires.
Cooking fires are blamed for more than half of all fires in a given year. Of those, 66 percent or two-thirds started when food, grease or some other substance ignites.
In the case of the Ancrums, it was candle wax.
“As she came close to the door, I did see the flame,” Joe Ancrum recalled. “I mean, it just raised up!”
“It did it within minutes, because I know I wasn't gone but just a second or two,” Julia Ancrum added.
In 2009, Julia Ancrum was enjoying an average day in the newly remodeled kitchen of her home. A favorite smelling candle was nearing the end of its life. Julia thought she might try setting it in a pot on the stove.
“I went ahead and took the candle and stuck it on a pot similar to this one,” she explained. “And I turned the stove on as low as I could on the back burner and turned it down to simmer.”
Her husband Joe called from outside for her to bring him some cleaner. Julia says it seemed like she was only gone a matter of seconds. The melting candle wax ignited, starting a fire on her stove.
With Joe holding open the back door, Julia made a split second decision. They would soon realize it was the wrong one.
“Cooking fires. They’re our number one cause of fires nationally,” said Tricia Roberts, the Public Education Specialist with the Overland Park Fire Department.
It is what you do within seconds of these cooking fires that can mean the difference between major damage, burns and injuries and even death.
“It kept flaming up very high,” Julia Ancrum said. “And as I kept walking out, and he had the door open, I said 'I can't, I can't!'”
Halfway to the door, flames jumping up in front of her, Julia spotted her kitchen sink. She dropped the pan and flipped on the water. A huge fireball erupted.
“And it went up, all the way up to the ceiling.”
Adding water to a grease fire or any other sudden stove fire is something you never want to do.
“You don't want to move a pan that is on fire,” Roberts explains. “And you especially don't want to put water on it.”
Surprisingly, Julia escaped without a scratch. As for their home? The flames hit the kitchen drapes catching them on fire. As the fire spread, smoke filled their two story home. In the end, damage totaled $200,000.
To demonstrate just how dangerous a cooking fire can be, we enlisted the help of the Overland Park Fire Department. In a test kitchen at the Fire Training Center, we set up eight cameras. We placed five inside and three outside.
Firefighters set a pan of grease on the stove and heated it up. Within about eight minutes, we had our fire. To show just how dangerous water can be, our firefighters extended a poll through a window of the kitchen with a measuring cup attached. Carrying just one cup of water, the firefighter slowly extended the poll closer to the stove and poured out the water into the flaming pot.
An unbelievable fireball erupted rolling straight up to the ceiling. It then roared across the ceiling to the rear of the test kitchen. When it finally dissipated, black soot stained the walls and the white kitchen curtains waved with burn stains. Water is the absolute worst thing you can throw on a cooking fire.
“Well it instantly turns to steam, so what you end up with is something like an explosion,” Roberts said. “Fire doubles in size every 30 seconds, so fires move very quickly. They also produce a lot of smoke. That little fire in the pan here that you saw produced a lot of smoke. And it's smoke that kills most people in a fire.”
So what should you do to prevent an explosion of fire in your kitchen? Our expert says first of all never move the fire.
“You run the risk of dropping it,” Roberts explained. “Fire likes air. When you move a pan, you give that fire more air. It can come back at you.”
In most cases a fire can be extinguished right on the stove with the pan or pot’s lid. A cookie sheet or pizza pan also work well. Roberts demonstrated gently sliding the flat surface from the side of the flaming pan to its center. Hold down the lid, the flames stopped immediately.
“You're just going to take your lid, touch the edge of the pan, slide the lid across, and then turn off the heat. It's important that you turn off the heat.”
It’s important to note that you never want to remove the lid or sheet until it cools.
“One thing you don't want to do is take that lid off right away. Right now my pan's not hot. But if my pan were hot, when I remove that lid it's going to give that fire a lot more air. So it will just kick right back up.”
For even added safety, fire experts now recommend installing a product known as StoveTop FireStop. Cans packed with a powdered fire suppression