Cooking, electrical safety focus of Fire Prevention Week

You’re cooking noodles on the stovetop, and the water is about to boil.

The TV is on, the laundry is going and your Facebook is updating non-stop. The dog scratches at the door, the phone rings three times and your kids are playing outside.

You walk away from the stove for five minutes.

The next thing you know, the kitchen is ablaze. The fire spreads quickly to the living room and then engulfs the staircase. Pretty soon, an active fire is shooting through the roof.

Area officials say cooking fires are the most common type of blaze that can easily be prevented. They say by being attentive and cautious, residents can avoid fire disasters that could take away their home – and potentially their life.

Awareness is one of the key messages fire chiefs and departments are emphasizing during Fire Prevention Week in Catawba County, which starts Sunday and lasts through Oct. 15.

“In the crazy world we live in, everybody is in a hurry,” said Maiden Fire Chief Danny Hipps. “But if you take time to turn the stove or dryer off when you’re not home, you can easily prevent damage from happening.”

Hipps is one of many fire chiefs speaking about fire prevention strategies this week. He said families lose their homes and possessions often from fires that could have easily been prevented. In the last two weeks alone, Maiden Fire Department has responded to two structure fires that resulted in complete losses, Hipps said. The most recent came early Friday morning, when a farm home off Providence Mill Road burned to the ground.

“A lot of these things can be prevented by just being aware and attentive of what you’re doing,” Hipps said.

Catawba County Fire Marshal Mark Petit agrees that unattended cooking fires are the most common and preventable.

“Always make sure if you’re not in the room or in close vicinity to the kitchen to shut off the burners,” Pettit said. “It’s certainly safer to have everything off when you’re leaving the house, because unfortunately, accidents do happen and if you are there, then you can intervene and address the problem.”

Across the nation, there are 120,000 cooking fires reported each year.

They result in more than 3,500 civilian injuries and 220 deaths.

Cooking fires cause an average of about $362 million in property damage annually, too, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Cooking equipment fires are the leading cause of home structure fires and associated civilian injuries. These fires accounted for 40 percent of all reported home structure fires and 36 percent of home civilian injuries last year, according to the National Fire Protection Agency.

With Thanksgiving Day – regarded as the “peak” day for cooking fires each year – quickly approaching, fire officials caution residents.

Claremont Fire Chief Gary Sigmon said his department has responded to several cooking fires recently.

“You need to make sure that you never leave the stove unattended,” Sigmon said. “If there are small children in the house, make sure the handles of cooking equipment are turned inwards so they can’t move them down.”

Unattended laundry can also spark a fire.

Newton Fire Chief Kevin Yoder said it’s important to make sure dryer appliances are off and unplugged when no one’s home.

“You need to clean those lint filters after every single load,” Yoder said.

“Even after cleaning those filters, you still get a small amount of lint after every load that collects in the piping and in that dryer.

It’s a good idea to take those ducts and pipes out of the dryer and clean those periodically as well.”

A dryer was a culprit of a fire that caused $50,000 in damages to a Newton home on N. Deal Ave. Thursday, Yoder said. The fire started in the clothes dryer and burned up all the contents inside the appliance as well as the wall behind it. It damaged the cabinet doors above the dryer and caused smoke damage to nearly the whole residence.

Electrical fires

Officials say the evolution of technology also increases the potential for electrical fires.

Overloading an electrical outlet or surge protector with cords from laptop and cell phone chargers can spark a fire, a fact fire officials are trying to make residents aware of this week.

“I’ve seen surge protectors plugged into surge protectors before,” Hipps said. “Anytime you have electrical outlets, they can generate tremendous amounts of heat. We’ve had several fires from phone chargers and computer chargers.”

Hipps said residents should try to use chargers for their devices that are recommended from the manufacturer and avoid overloading outlets.

In July, a fire that started from a surge protector destroyed the former Drums Restaurant in Conover. The blaze, initially reported at 1:19 a.m. on July 9, ripped through the restaurants’ interior, blowing out the building’s windows and destroying nearly everything inside.

After Conover Fire Department put out the blaze, investigators from the SBI Arson Team and Conover Police Department told Drum’s owner Douglas Travis that the fire started at an electrical surge protector.

“Any type of electrical conduit that is overloaded is a fire danger or hazard,” Pettit said. “It really gets into problems when they connect one surge protector into another surge protector to get a longer reach out of it.
You’ve doubled the load on the first one and created a problem.”