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The Single Most Important Thing You Should Do in Your Kitchen This Weekend

There’s always some kind of important safety advice to talk about when it comes to the kitchen. Watch your fingers when you’re using knives! Don’t wash your chicken! Be careful with that hot grease! We could go on … but for this weekend, we have one key thing we’d like to talk about: fire extinguishers and fire safety! Cooking is by far the leading cause of U.S. home fires and fire injuries, according to Susan McKelvey, spokesperson from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

That’s why, if you do just one thing this weekend, we ask that you please check your home’s fire extinguisher. First, make sure you know where it is (ideally, it’s in or near your kitchen!). “If the fire extinguisher isn’t at the ready, the little time you have to escape safely is squandered looking for it,” says McKelvey, who emphasizes that 49 percent of all home fires are caused by cooking. Plus, it’s also important that your extinguisher (a 5-pound one is usually ideal for the kitchen) is maintained by checking the pressure gauge (the little needle should be pointing in the green zone; not too low and not too high) and inspecting the hose and nozzle for any damage. “In many cases, people have extinguishers in their homes for years assuming that they’ll work, only to find that they no longer are when they need them,” she warns.

While fire extinguishers can be highly effective tools for dealing with small kitchen fires, it’s critical you know how to use one, she says. Local fire departments or fire equipment distributors, for example, often hold hands-on fire extinguisher trainings. Be sure to consult them before you buy a fire extinguisher to make sure you have the right one on hand and, more importantly, you know how to use it.

Given this practical advice and with the wildfire season raging on in California, we thought that a helpful reminder about fire prevention and safety would be a good lesson for us all.

Here are five more smart tips McKelvey had to offer.

1. Don’t leave your cooking unattended.

It’s good advice that you stay in the kitchen while you are frying, boiling, grilling, or broiling food. Walking away, even if it’s just to get your phone from the other room, could be dangerous. “Unattended cooking equipment is the leading cause of cooking fires, with frying dominating the problem,” McKelvey explains. If you are simmering, baking, or roasting, you can go hang out in the living room or nearby, just be sure to check your culinary creation regularly and remain in the home while your food is cooking. Use a trusty timer to remind you when your dish is expected to be done.

2. Keep your stovetop free of flammables.

Anything that can catch on fire — that means oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels, curtains, etc! — should be kept away from your stovetop. While you may be in the habit of tossing your kitchen towel off to the side of your stove, make sure you have enough clearance!

3. Act quickly if a small oven or stove fire occurs.

If you end up with a small fire on the stovetop, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and immediately turning off the burner. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled, McKelvey says. Never try to extinguish a grease fire with water, as that can cause burning grease to splatter and spread the fire. For an oven fire, quickly turn off the heat, and be sure to keep the oven door closed.

4. Maintain your home’s smoke detectors.

Smoke detectors are an essential part of a home’s fire plan. Take the time to make sure all of yours are in working order. If you can’t remember the last time you changed the batteries in your smoke detectors, just go ahead and do it now!

5. Know when to call the experts.

If you have any doubt about fighting a kitchen fire, just get out as safely and quickly as you can, McKelvey says. “Experiencing a fire in your home is scary, highly stressful, and may likely be a situation a person has never encountered,” she adds. Make sure you gather anyone else in the house and have them exit with you. When you leave, close the door behind you to contain the fire, then call 9-1-1 from outside the home in a safe location.

Have you and your family talked about fire prevention and what to do in case of a home fire? Share your experience in the comments below.

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