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Firefighters squelch smoldering disaster

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By Carol A. Clark

The mouth-watering aroma of supper simmering on the stove turned acrid when a forgotten pot began to smolder and nearly burst into flames Friday in an apartment on 11th Street.Los Alamos Fire Marshall Michael Thompson described the sequence of events that lead to near disaster for the apartment owner and surrounding neighbors at about 3:30 p.m. Friday.“He put the food in the pot to start cooking and went to another part of the apartment,” Thompson said. “After a while, he remembered something at work and left the apartment through a door that was away from the kitchen. The water eventually evaporated in the pot and the food began to burn.”Luckily, a neighbor smelled smoke in the hallway of the apartment building and called it in, Thompson said.Los Alamos police opened the apartment door to the vacant apartment and firefighters removed the smoldering pan and ventilated the space. “Fortunately, it was caught in time,” Thompson said.Fires from cooking mishaps are the most common household fires and the leading cause of home fire injuries in the United States, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. More than 100,000 fires start in kitchens each year in the United States, killing hundreds of people and injuring thousands more. Studies also show 42 percent of people who died in cooking fires were asleep.In 2007, there were 10 reported incidents of forgotten food left cooking on stoves throughout Los Alamos, Thompson said, adding that Friday’s event was the first reported incident so far this year.The USFA and the National Fire Protection Association partnered to research the types of behaviors and sequences of events that lead to cooking fires. Their findings show unattended cooking is the single leading factor contributing to cooking fires.Many other cooking fires begin because combustibles are too close to cooking heat sources. The findings also show that frying is the cooking method that poses the highest risk.Safety tips to minimize the chance of a kitchen fire:Never leave food cooking on the stove unattended.Turn off stoves and appliances promptly when finished and unplug electrical appliances when not in use.Keep appliances clean. Built-up grease catches fire easily.Wear close-fitting sleeves when cooking. Loose sleeves catch fire.Don’t store things above the stove. Clothing can catch fire when reaching over burners.Keep flammable objects clear of the stove including potholders, dish towels and curtains.Never overload electrical outlets. Plugging toasters, coffee pots and electric frying pans into the same electrical outlet can overheat or overload the circuit and ignite.Keep heat-producing appliances away from walls and curtains.Replace frayed and cracked electrical cord immediately.Service appliances that get wet inside before using for any purpose.“Something else that’s very important is to turn pot handles toward the back of the stove because handles sticking out over the edge of the stove are a temptation to toddlers who will try to grab the pot,” Thompson said. “We also recommend everyone have an extinguisher in the kitchen and know how to use it.”Also, heat oil slowly. Heating oil too fast and at high temperatures is an easy way to start a serious kitchen fire. Never leave cooling oil unattended.In the case of a pan catching fire, Thompson advises carefully sliding a lid over the pan and shutting off the burner. If a grease fire starts, he says to smother it with the lid. “Never pour water on a cooking fire,” he said. “The water will react to the hot grease and spread everywhere.”In the case of oven fires, close the door and turn off the heat source. If the flames do not go out immediately, call the fire department. The same with a microwave fire. Keep the door closed and turn off or unplug the microwave. Opening the door will only feed oxygen to the fire. Do not use ovens or microwaves following a fire until serviced.