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What Happens When You Pour Water on a Grease Fire?

By November 7, 2019 Fire Safety, Stove Fires

Pouring water on a grease fire is unsafe.Knowing how to handle fires in the home is important for every homeowner or tenant. But with so many fires still causing damage, injury and death every year, it’s apparent that more education and better tools are needed to save lives and property.

Learning how to manage different types of fires, such as knowing what to do in case of a grease fire, could make the difference between life and death. Pouring water on a grease fire may seem like the right thing to do or could even be a natural reaction to seeing flames, but it actually makes the situation much more dangerous.

Residential fires have declined slightly over the past decade, due in part to more advanced detection systems. But that hasn’t eliminated the threat; kitchen fires are responsible for an average of 172,000 fires every year and they often turn deadly, causing on average more than 500 deaths, 5,270 fire-related injuries and a staggering $1.1 billion in property damage annually.

Cooking has become the leading cause of residential fires and, while the overall number of fires decreased, the incidents of cooking fires rose 20% over the past decade. Almost 90% of residential kitchen fires are the result of someone leaving the stove unattended.

What Happens When Grease Catches Fire?

Grease fires happen when the oil used for cooking becomes too hot. There are three stages to a grease fire: first, it starts to boil. Secondly, it begins to smoke. After this, if the heat is not reduced, it catches on fire. As soon as that happens, it can get out of control quickly, which is why it’s critical for everyone to know what steps to take next and how to suppress a grease fire once it begins.

The natural instinct when someone sees fire is often to put water on it, but that’s only good for what is categorized as a Class A fire. Class A fires are those that involve common combustible materials like wood, paper, plastic or trash. They are the kind of fires that happen when a spark leaps out of the fireplace and makes contact with a rug, or when lightning strikes a tree.

Grease cooking fires are categorized as a Class K fire and should never be handled the same way as a Class A fire. (They may also sometimes be grouped in with Class B fires, which are “flammable liquids.”) If water is poured on a grease fire, it is only going to make the fire much worse. The oil can splash, spreading the fire to the counter, floor and other items. As the water makes contact with the grease and vaporizes, it can carry small particles of grease with it, helping spread the fire.

Another common reaction to seeing a fire in a pan on the stove is to move the pot or pan to the sink to try to contain the fire, or to rush outside with the flaming pot. Moving a flaming pot or pan from one location to another is never a good idea, since several things can go wrong. The fire may splash out of the pot or pan as it’s carried through the house, causing other items in the house, such as carpeting or furniture, to ignite. Or it can burn the person carrying the pan, causing them to drop it and create a bigger fire.

What to Do When Grease Catches Fire

When a grease fire occurs, the first thing to do, if it is safe, is to put a lid on the pan to deprive the fire of oxygen and turn off the heat source. But what if the fire is already too large by the time it’s noticed? That’s when things can get serious.

If it’s too late to extinguish a grease fire just by covering it, a handheld fire extinguisher is the next step. Extinguishers designed specifically for Class B or Class K fires is a must for every kitchen. They can be an effective way to put out grease fires, but their usefulness depends on two key conditions. The fire must be noticed in time for the fire extinguisher to be used — and the person who notices the fire must know how to use the extinguisher calmly and properly.

A More Dependable Way to Fight Grease Fires

StoveTop FireStop was created out of a need to automatically suppress kitchen grease fires — without any human intervention. Since many of these fires occur when someone is distracted or has stepped away from the stove “just for a minute,” StoveTop Firestop takes human involvement out of the equation. The canister is mounted under the range hood or microwave, and when there is direct, sustained flame contact with the fuse on the bottom of the canister, the canister opens and drops a fine, dry powder directly onto the flames that quickly suppresses the fire. Upon activation of the canister there is a “loud pop” that serves as an alert to the resident. 

Virtually every environment can benefit from having a StoveTop FireStop canister. It’s effective for homes with older adults who may forget they’ve turned on the stove or are mistaken about how high they’ve turned up the heat. It’s also great for families with small children who might get distracted by their children while they’re cooking.

Grease fires and other types of kitchen fires inevitably occur unexpectedly, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be planned for. Knowing what needs to be done in case of a kitchen fire, and taking all the proper precautions, can greatly reduce the chances that a stovetop fire will turn into widespread residential damage. Using StoveTop FireStop as part of those precautions can help suppress grease fires and keep all the residents of a home safe.

Click here to learn more about StoveTop FireStop products. 

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