Cooking fires spike in Albany

ALBANY, Ga. -- Given our culture's obsession with multitasking, it can be difficult for time-crunched families to focus on doing one thing at a time.

However, officials with the Albany Fire Department said one thing that should never be overlooked is the importance of cooking safely.

According to AFD Deputy Chief Ron Rowe, the department has responded to 11 fires caused by cooking since Aug. 1. Two of those fires were determined to have been caused by young adults who were cooking and left food unattended.

"We had, according to our estimates, $57,000 worth of damage in the month of August from cooking fires," Rowe said Wednesday.

Fire Chief James Carswell said the leading cause of structure fires in Albany are kitchen fires and the department has experienced a small spike in kitchen fires since the beginning of the school year.

Fire officials say a change in the summer routine of most families may be the cause.

"Anytime there is a change in routine we see spikes like this," Carswell explained. "Kids are back in school and now there might be more distractions like homework or after-school activities."

Fire officials said these distractions might hinder an adult or child from focusing solely on cooking.

"If you are cooking, you need to stay with the food," Carswell said. "It's not a good idea to take a nap, walk outside or anything that would lead to something on the stove being unattended."

The fire chief said if it is necessary to leave the kitchen while cooking that person should take something, like a spoon or potholder, that would remind them of the food cooking on the stove.

Fire officials said that although cooking fires are common, they are usually preventable.

"All of the kitchen fires we have responded to this month have been preventable," Rowe said. "It was not equipment failure, it was human error."

Fire officials stressed the importance of taking cautionary measures to prevent a cooking fire and having a plan ready in case one does happen.

"If you have a stove fire and that person chooses to try and to put it out themselves, they need to make sure to call 911 and get everybody out of the house first," Carswell said. "It's important to remember when you try to put out the fire to keep the exit to your back. You do not want to close off your escape route."

One thing the fire department cautions people never to do is to move a pot or pan that has caught fire from the stove.

"Do not try to carry the pot or pan outside or to the sink," Carswell cautioned. "We have had a fatality in Albany where that exact thing happened. A man tried to carry a pan that was on fire outside and he himself caught on fire."

Fire officials also said keeping a fire extinguisher near the stove in the kitchen is a good precaution and that residents should know how to use the extinguisher properly.

"People should also never disarm their smoke detectors in the kitchen," Carswell said. "If the steam from the stove or oven is causing it to go off and it has become annoying then they need to relocate the alarm somewhere else within the kitchen. It's a moot point if you take the batteries out."

Fire officials said parents need to talk to their children about what to do while cooking and what to do in case of a fire.

"A kitchen fire is one of those things that are waiting to catch up on you," Carswell said. "A lot of people say, 'I do this everyday and nothing has happened yet,' but sooner or later it might."