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Cooking Oil Fire
In the U.K. each year, thousands are injured during kitchen cooking oil fires. Some 40 or so people die, each year, as a result. The U.K. Home Office released an effective, public-awareness video, demonstrating the difference between the "right way" and the "wrong way" of dealing with cooking oil fires. It's worth a look.
Put out by the U.K. "Home Office" in 1999, this £1.5 million national advertising campaign was aimed at reducing the number of chip pan fires, across the United Kingdom. While the video is now eight years old, the information and message is relevant to ANY stove-top cooking oil fire. It is an amazingly well-done advertisement that demonstrates the volatility of cooking oil fires.
Apparently, Brits like to eat fresh chips (or fries) after drinking beer at the local pub, which has led to a nationwide epidemic of late night cooking oil fires. More than 4,600 people were injured in 1998, when trying to make fries. More than 30% of those injuries happened between 10 PM and 4 AM. As many as 46 people per year die as a result of these chip-pan fires. Sobering statistics, for sure.
In the typical scenario, the drunken Brit arrives home, decides to fix some French fries, pours oil in the pan, turns on the stove top and then passes out on the couch or sofa, awakening (or not) only after the oil is super-heated and on fire. A groggy, drunken person doesn't make for a great fire-fighter and what you see in the video can easily be the result.
Knowing how to extinguish a stove-top cooking oil fire is demonstrated. Follow the 3 simple steps and you've controlled a volatile situation. Make the wrong move and you could be on fire in a split second - or worse - dead.
Use a deep fat fryer or buy your late-night fries at Micky Dee's, but regardless, take 30 seconds and watch this video.
For an explanation behind the volatility of cooking oil fires, carry on ...
Water and oil don't mix and water is more dense than oil. When one pours water into a flaming pan of oil, it wants to sink to the bottom. When it does, it comes in contact with the very hot pan (and oil) and instantly vaporizes into steam. The instantaneous phase change, from a liquid to a gaseous state, is accompanied by a tremendous expansion. Because the water (now steam) is below the oil, it expands rapidly upward, explosively expelling the flaming oil. It atomizes the oil, in the process, oxygenating it and effectively creating a volcanic blow torch.
A graphic of the this effect can be seen on the right.
It doesn't take much water to precipitate a disastrous result. In the laboratory photos also shown here, the plume of oil quickly extinguishes itself, as the oil is rapidly consumed in the conflagration. However, if more oil is used (such as is needed for a good-sized batch of French fries) ... the oil isn't immediately consumed and lands on household objects, still burning.
It's like taking a flame thrower to your kitchen (and maybe your face).