Words: Anne Schauffer | Image: Shutterstock

A fire can happen in any part of the house. But most fires happen in the kitchen, and according to global stats, 33% of them are sparked by unattended cooking. How to act depends on what kind of fire and where it is. Advocate Johan Jonck of Arrive Alive suggests each household pays close attention to the do’s and don’ts – compliance is often easy and inexpensive, “We gathered safety information from both ER24 and the emergency services on how to protect ourselves, and urge South Africans to take note.”

Proactive and preventative

Sometimes, the best way to stop a fire is to take preventative measures in your home before they happen.

  • Install smoke detectors or alarms: these are surprisingly inexpensive, but be sure to check the batteries regularly.
  • Have portable fire extinguishers installed near “danger” spots, familiarise yourself with their usage and write the expiry date on them. They don’t last forever, so replace them when necessary. Alternatively, have a regular appointment with a professional company to check up for you.
  • Keep a fire blanket near danger spots. They deprive a fire of oxygen by smothering it. They’re made from fire-resistant materials, such as wool or fibreglass, and may also be chemically treated to increase fire resistance. It can be used to dampen fires and to extinguish a fire on a person or their clothing.
  • Make sure to keep a Burnshield product in your medical kit (five-year lifespan). You need to treat a burn as soon as possible. Cara Garnitz of Burnshield, considered internationally as the go-to emergency treatment, says, “A burn needs immediate attention. Firstly, to cool and soothe it, and secondly, to rehydrate the area to aid recovery. Burnshield does both.”
  • Post emergency numbers in a prominent place or on every family member’s cellphone.

Extinguish a kitchen fire

Of all fires, this one needs swift action to prevent escalation. Here’s what to do when you have a fire in your kitchen.

  • In the oven or microwave: close the door or keep it closed, and turn it off. Don’t open it. The lack of oxygen suffocates the flames.
  • If your oven continues to smoke as if the fire is still active, call the fire department.
  • In a cooking pan: use an oven mitt to clap on the lid to deprive it of oxygen, then move the pan off the burner, and turn off the stove.
  • If you can’t safely put on the lid or don’t have one, use your fire extinguisher. Aim at the base of the fire or above the flames, not the flames themselves.
  • You can also throw baking soda or salt on it. Not flour, which can explode or make the fire worse.
  • Another option is to smother the fire with a wet towel or other large wet cloth. If you have a fire blanket, use it.

Cooking with gas

All gas installations must have a certificate of conformity, which states that the installation has been inspected and deemed to be safe and leak free.

The document needs to be issued by an authorised person registered with the Liquefied Petroleum Gas Safety Association of Southern Africa (LPGAS). The onus is on the homeowner to have this certificate. This applies to gas braai installations as much as a gas stove.