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Cooking Oil Fire

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Cooking Oil Fire

May 30th, 2007  · stk

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. ;)

cooking oil fire

A Public Safety Video Worth Watching

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 ...

Why Cooking Oil Fires are so Volatile

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).

Not fun.

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Updated: 1-Jun-2007
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1.flag Gary Comment
LOL Scott at the remark on your blog post: "Apparently, Brits like to eat fresh chips (or fries) after drinking beer at the local pub."

Yes, we like the odd CHIP but tend to use oven chips so not to send the house up in flames in a drunken stuper! :-)

Why does the rest of the world think that us Brits only eat chips? I guess it just an image thats stuck with us ;)

On a serious note, a well spent, 30-second lesson on how to handle a cooking oil fire.

Best regards
2.flag stk Comment

Glad to hear you bake yer chips. Apparently, not all y'all do, however (hence the need for the public awareness campaign).

Don't mean to make Brits out to be a bunch of sotted Darwin-award winners. I just report 'em like I read 'em.) :p

BTW ... the United States has its share of oil, fat and grease fires. There were approximately 156,500 kitchen fires in 2002 (331 fatalities and 4,914 injuries). 88% of those (137,720) were caused by cooking and in 37% of those (roughly 51,000) oil, fat or grease were the first things to ignite. (They don't break it out by 'chip pan' fires, as chip pan is not a common term in the U.S.) :p

Anyway ... if you want lots of stats on U.S. Fires - head here for an index. Here's the report specifically on kitchen fires.


P.S. - As an interesting follow-up, I'll be adding the reason WHY water leads to such a volatile response.
3.flag Gary (UK) Comment
Interesting follow up Scott, makes you think doesn't it ? so I guess the awareness campaign has done its job. I bet everyone's first thought to put one of these types of fires out is to throw a jug of water over it, not a good idea.

Like the PZ with the separated comments underneath, neat effect.

4.flag Kenna Comment

Do you know that although it is highly recommended to have a dry chemical fire extinguisher in the kitchen not many people do? They are not expensive and can be used on all sorts of fires including grease/fat. Just make certain that everybody in the residence knows how to use it properly!
5.flag Dude Comment
Everyone should watch this movie ... seriously!
6.flag Karen Comment
Just wondering how I can get a copy of this video into my presentation, I am an FPO and would like to use this video for a kitchen fire safety talk I am doing. I will not have access to the internet and have checked on the Fire Kills website but can't find the video. Can you help me out?
7.flag stk Comment
Karen - Sure. The U.K. government has a great website - "The National Archives". A search for "chip pan fire", returned three pages of links (maybe some are of value to you?), but I noted two:

1) One is a nice PDF document you can print - HERE

2) Another is the April 2000 Home Office Internet page, which has a copy of the video - HERE

Hope this helps. ;)


8.flag Sayed Comment
The scene of a burning house and building, with children and ladies and many other people and pets inside is very tragic.

Now I have method to extinguishing the fire before it getting out of control.

Thank you.