Analysis of patterns and trends in all measures of fire loss for all types of home cooking equipment and all fuel and power types, including leading causes of ignition and analysis of relative risks. Also provides safety tips and published home cooking fire incidents.
Home Fires Involving Microwave Ovens fact sheet (PDF, 138 KB)
LATEST ESTIMATES ON MAJOR FIRE CAUSES
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During the five-year period of 2006-2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 157,300 home structure fires in which cooking equipment was involved in the ignition or in which the fire department used an incident type that identified a cooking fire that did not spread beyond the cooking vessel. These fires caused an average of 380 civilian deaths, 4,920 reported civilian fire injuries, and $794 million in direct property damage. Overall, these incidents accounted for two of every five reported home fires (42%) and reported home fire injuries (38%), 15% of home fire deaths, and 11% of the direct property damage resulting from home fires. These statistics are estimates derived from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System and NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey.
The number of reported home fires involving cooking equipment increased since 2002 when Version 5.0 of NFIRS became widely used. NFIRS 5.0 requires very little causal information on several categories of minor structure fires, including fires that are confined to a cooking vessel. Because it is so much easier to document these minor fires, it is hard to tell how much of the increase is due to changes in the data collections system. However, it is clear that less progress has been made in reducing deaths from home cooking fires than deaths from other fire causes. The average of 380 deaths per year in 2006-2010 was only 24% lower than the 500 per year in 1980-1984. Total home fire deaths fell 45% from an annual average or 4,830 in 1980-1984 to 2,590 per year in 2006-2010.
Home fires involving cooking peak on dates that are major U.S. holidays with traditions of cooking, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Christmas Eve. Thanksgiving had three times the average number of reported home structure fires involving cooking equipment.
Ranges or cooktops were the equipment involved in three of every five (58%) reported home fires involving cooking equipment, seven of every eight (87%) cooking fire deaths, three-quarters (76%) of the reported cooking fire civilian injuries, and 72% of the associated direct property damage.
Unattended equipment was a factor in one-third (34%) of reported home cooking fires. Abandoned or discarded material, which may be related to unattended equipment, was a factor in 11% of these fires. An additional 10% occurred when something that could catch fire was too close to the cooking equipment. Nine percent were caused by an unclassified misuse of material. Eight percent occurred when the cooking equipment was unintentionally turned on or not turned off.
Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges.
The vast majority of reported cooking fires were small. Four out of five were confined to the object or vessel of origin. However, 10% of the cooking fire deaths and 41% of the cooking fire injuries resulted from these small fires. Almost two out of five (38%) home cooking equipment fire deaths and 85% of home cooking equipment fire injuries resulted from the 96% of fires that were confined to the room where the fire began.
Not surprisingly, two-thirds (67%) of home structure fires involving cooking equipment began with the ignition of cooking materials, including food. Fat, grease, cooking oil and related substances were first ignited in half (52%) of the home cooking fires that began with cooking materials. Roughly three-quarters (72%) of the civilian deaths, injuries (77%), and direct property damage (74%) associated with cooking material or food ignitions resulted from these fat, grease or cooking oil fires.
Clothing was the item first ignited in less than 1% of these fires, but clothing ignitions led to 16% of the home cooking equipment fire deaths. When cooking, it is important to wear short, close-fitting, or tightly rolled sleeves. Loose clothing can dangle onto stove burners and can catch fire if it comes in contact with a gas flame or electric burner. It is also important to keep the cooking area clean and free of combustible materials. Built-up grease can catch fire in the oven or on the stovetop. Wrappers and other materials on or near the stove may also catch fire.
Several studies, including the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC’s) 1999 study of range fires by Linda Smith, Ron Monticone, and Brenda Gillum, and the 1998 New Zealand Fire Service Bay-Waikato Region Kitchen Fire Research found that frying dominated the cooking fire problem. Frying accounted for 63% of 218 range top cooking-material ignitions in the CPSC study. Eighty-three percent of these food ignitions by frying occurred during the first fifteen minutes of cooking. Because frying involves heating cooking oil or grease, substances that can catch fire in an open container from which fire can quickly spread, constant supervision is required. Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling, or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove. Deep fryers use larger quantities of hot cooking oil than are typically used in regular frying. Turkey fryers use extremely large quantities of hot cooking oil. These conditions may add to the fire or scald risk of these devices.
Boiling and simmering involve heating water or foods with a lot of water. Water boil-overs can be messy and may cause scalds, but the liquid will not ignite. If the liquid boils away, a fire may result. Baking and roasting are generally done in a closed oven which will typically delay fire spread. If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
Smoke alarms were more likely to have been present and sounded in cooking fires (69%) than in reported home fires overall (52%).
The statistics on fires involving cooking equipment reported to local fire departments represent a tiny fraction of all home fires involving home cooking equipment. In their analysis of CPSC’s 2004-2005 survey of residential fires, Michael Greene and Craig Andres found that U.S. households handled an average of 4.7 million home fires involving cooking equipment per year without having the fire department on scene. Roughly one of every 23 occupied households had a cooking fire. The study also found that 102,000 injuries resulted from cooking equipment fires with no fire department presence. This is 30 times the average number of civilian injuries per year in reported home cooking structure fires during 2005-2009. Total direct property damage from unreported home fires involving cooking equipment was estimated at $328 million, with an average loss of $70 dollars per fire. Unreported cooking equipment fires fell 63% from the 12.3 million such incidents in the 1984 survey of unreported residential fires done for the CPSC.
Three of every five (57%) civilians who were non-fatally injured in reported home structure fires involving cooking equipment were hurt while they were trying to fight the fire, compared to roughly one-third of injuries suffered in overall home structure fires. More than two-thirds (70%) of non-fatal reported home cooking fire injuries were minor. The ratio of 50 unreported home cooking fires found by the CPSC in their 2004-2005 Residential Fire Survey for every reported home cooking fire shows that the overwhelming majority of home cooking fires are handled safely by individuals without fire department assistance.