Have you given any thought to the most common reason for house and apartment fires?

According to Benny Fulkerson, Battalion Chief of the Oklahoma City Fire Department, the answer might surprise you.

“In Oklahoma City, there are numerous reasons why structure fires happen, but unattended cooking is among the leading causes for these incidents,” he says. “We always remind people to ‘keep an eye on what you fry.’ In other words, stay in the kitchen and keep a close eye on your cooking until you are completely finished and the heat is turned off.”

Fulkerson notes that turning your back on your cooking could result in the grease catching fire. And if you find yourself facing this terrifying situation, never pour water on a grease fire.

“Water causes a grease fire to react violently and will make the fire much worse, and [that] can certainly cause injuries,” he says. “Likewise, never put flour on a grease fire. Simply sliding a lid over the skillet and then turning off the heat is the cleanest, fastest and most efficient way to extinguish a fire in a skillet.”

He also advises against attempting to carry the burning skillet outside. In doing so, the hot pan may be dropped, running the risk of a personal injury and allowing the fire to spread. 

Fulkerson says the OKC Fire Department responds to approximately 92,000 emergency calls annually, with some 700 to 800 of those runs being structure fires.

“We also see structure fires commonly start due to improperly discarded cigarettes,” he says. “It is not uncommon for a cigarette to be dropped into bedding or onto cushions of furniture, which can then start a fire which could quickly spread to other areas of the home.”

Think it’s OK to discard a lighted cigarette into a flower bed or on a deck? Think again.

Fulkerson advises that cigarettes can easily ignite mulch and vegetation in flower beds and also the wooden decks themselves.

“The key here is to be prepared,” he says. “Having working smoke alarms is one of the most important things people can do.”

What To Do in the Event of a Fire

“The very first thing you should do is get out,” he says. “Everyone in the home should participate in periodic exit drills in the home and should know how to escape the home, and where the pre-established meeting place is located. Everyone should know two ways out of every room.”

Important tips:

Feel doors with the back of your hand. If the door is hot, fire is on the other side.

Close doors behind you to compartmentalize the fire and smoke.

Call 911 from outside of the burning home.

Be prepared to tell firefighters where the fire was located and if anyone, or pets, are still inside.