Chins drop and eyes widen as scorching heat rolls across the parking lot from what had been a grease fire in a non-stick skillet.
Seconds earlier, Fire Inspector Wes Van Bavel and Fire Marshall Dale Kelly had showed how to use a lid to smother the flames if a pot catches fire on a kitchen stove.
A lid or a cutting board is the best fire extinguisher there is in the kitchen, Van Bavelt told the crowd gathered at Red Deer’s Fire Hall No. 1 for a barbecue to celebrate Fire Prevention Week.
But wait. Watch what happens when you try to put it out with water.
Standing well back from the mock kitchen where Red Deer firefighters had set their demonstration in action, another firefighter used a cup at the end of a long pole to drop some water into the burning skillet.
Children and adults alike gasped as blazing droplets of grease leapt from the pan, spread to the stove and counter tops and caught on a tea towel and an overhead cupboard.
Two and a half minutes after the fire had started, orange flames and black smoke filled the entire room and a pillar of smoke poured out of the front of the kitchen.
Firefighters moved in quickly to hose down the mock kitchen, starting at the ceiling and working downward. What had been an open-sided shed with cupboards, a stove, chair and table was now a blackened mess.
In a real event, the fire department would have been at least two minutes away, given the time it takes to leave the house, call 9-1-1, muster the crews and get them to the scene, Kelly had said while preparing the demonstration.
Watching with her family, 10-year-old Claire Stange said afterward that the great speed of the fire and the amount of heat it generated convinced her that the best thing to do if it happened in her house would be to get everyone out, then call for help.
“It was interesting to see just how fast the flames went all over. It was very hot. You wanted to cover your face and everything.”
Although she had never seen a kitchen fire, Stange had heard about a kitchen fire that had started when her dad, Grant was still a teenager. Luckily, damage was limited to the kitchen cabinets after his brother fell asleep while baking a batch of muffins.
After the Saturday afternoon demonstration at Red Deer’s downtown fire station, it’s a lot easier to understand the dangers of a kitchen fire, cited by Van Bavel as the number one cause of structure fires in Red Deer and across North America.
Cooking fires are the top cause of all house fires, which account for an overwhelming majority of the structure fires Red Deer Emergency Services attend, said Van Bavel. Crews had been called to three kitchen fires in the last three days, he said. Fortunately, none had escalated to the level of the demonstration fire staged after the annual Fire Prevention Week barbecue on Saturday.
Most kitchen fires start because the cook left the room or failed to keep watch over the stuff on the stove, said Van Bavel.
Unless they actually seen what can happen, people fail to realize how quickly an unminded pot can turn into a blazing disaster.
He told about one woman who had started heating some oil in a pan and then gone to the bathroom. In the short time that she was away, the oil burst into flames and set her kitchen ablaze.
Red Deer EMS is called to an average of 80 structure fires a year, the vast majority of them being house fires that started in the kitchen, said Kelly.
The best extinguisher is a lid or cutting board used to smother the fire, said Van Bavel. The covered pan can then be carefully moved to a cooler part of the stove and the burner can be shut off, he said.
Chemical fire extinguishers can be used as well, but only by people who are familiar with that type of equipment, he said.
People unprepared for the way a fire extinguisher reacts may end up spreading the flames rather than dousing them, said Van Bavel.
After kitchen fires, the next most prevalent causes of house fires include unattended candles and portable space heaters.
Van Bavel recommends against using space heaters in children’s bedrooms because of the danger that bedding or clothing could ignite.
— copyright Red Deer Advocate