By Kendall McGee | February 2, 2021 at 5:27 PM EST – Updated February 2 at 6:57 PM
WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) -Just one month into the new year, Wilmington Fire Department has responded to dozens of cooking fires.
Cooking accounts for most fire calls on a national level, but experts say this kind of fire is almost always preventable.
Despite more people at home learning how to cook, the pandemic isn’t necessarily to blame for an increase in cooking fire calls.
Fire officials say they responded to a total of 350 cooking calls last year and 350 the year before that. Leaders instead believe the uptick in calls is more likely to be caused by people getting distracted and walking away from the stove.
“We know now that this is a problem that Wilmington has every year. This is not just a pandemic problem, so we really hope that people will take this to heart,” said WFD spokesperson Rebekah Thurston.
This year, one victim has already sustained second degree burns and firefighters have seen a lot of damage to homes.
Captain Jonathan Ellis has been on scene of three cooking fires in Wilmington in a matter of days, including a house fire on 7th Street. The victim was able to get out safely and was waiting on the lawn when first responders arrived at the home.
“We came around the back and actually made contact with the fire from the outside and then went around and put it out. It pretty much ruined the kitchen and you’ve got smoke damage as well so smoked out the house, damage to the paint, but the whole kitchen was ruined. She had to stay somewhere else that night,” remembered Ellis.
Captain Ellis says it all starts with a small mistake like walking away from a hot skillet or forgetting to take the plastic off a frozen pizza before popping it in the oven.
Everyone can understand how dangerous flames are, but firefighters say the smoke is often times more dangerous than the flames themselves.
Nowadays, so many household items are plastic and when it begins to burn or melt, it releases toxic fumes. Ellis says breathing those chemicals in can damage you lungs, or make you pass out, creating an even more dangerous situation.
“There’s a lot of times we’ve been to fires and the person was right at the door and you’ll open the door and they’ll be right there because they knew how to get out of the house but the smoke got to them before the fire ever did,” said Ellis. “Its strong…it can take you out quick.”
The biggest takeaway from firefighters is to not leave the kitchen if the stove or the oven is on. Experts say you should also be extremely cautious of where you leave flammable things like kitchen towels, food wrappings, pressurized containers and even items like cookbooks.
Fire extinguishers are best stored away from the stove and oven, that way if there’s a cooking fire, you don’t have to approach the range to find the extinguisher.
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