VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. - Smokey the Bear said, "Only you can prevent forest fires," but he never said anything about kitchen fires – the leading cause of home fires across the United States.
"It only takes a second for something to go up in a big fire,” Art Kohn, with the Virginia Beach Fire Department, told News 3.
Kohn shared pictures showing the aftermath of a kitchen fire in Virginia Beach. Most of the charred ruins appeared to be near the stove, the walls and cabinetry were damaged and burned and parts of the ceiling came down.
"You don't want to have that,” Kohn said. “You don't want to experience that."
This week, from October 4 to October 10, is Fire Prevention Week, a week-long observation to promote fire prevention and safety organized by the National Fire Protection Association. This year’s theme surrounds kitchen fires.
"Most, if not all, of these fires, are preventable,” Kohn said.
From 2014 to 2018, there were 550 deaths as a result of kitchen fires, according to Kohn and statistics from the NFPA. He added this number was greater than the number of similar deaths from 1980 to 1984.
"It's a firefighter's worst nightmare, to have to deliver news like that to a loved one,” Kohn said.
Most of those deaths are due to smoke inhalation, Kohn said. Kitchen fires also left more than 4,800 people injured in the same time period.
"Most of the injuries, the severe injuries that occur to people who are dealing with a kitchen fire, are because they tried to put it out themselves," Kohn said.
So what can you do to make sure you don't become a statistic? Kohn advised to not leave a stove on with the burners running unattended.
If you have to step away, Kohn suggested, “Take a wooden a spoon with you, maybe a plastic spatula that you have in the kitchen. You have something in your hand to remind you, 'I've got food cooking in the oven.'"
He also suggested having a fire extinguisher nearby. For a pot on fire, the NFPA suggests to slide the lid on and turn off the heat, but do not move it.
Kohn also warned to never use water on a grease fire, as the water will actually spread the grease and risk expanding the fire.
If the situation is dire, Kohn said you should let the professionals handle the fire.
“Get out of the house, call 911,” Kohn said. “Let us do it."