Frequently Asked Questions

How To Extinguish a Kitchen Fire

If you’ve seen any of the myriad of cooking shows on television, then you’ve seen that even top chefs can experience a kitchen fire. It makes for good television, but is frightening and dangerous in your own home.

A pan of grease gets a little too hot, some of the grease pops out of the pan, and all of a sudden you have a ball of fire in your pan. These fires are often more dangerous than other fires because the liquid grease is scalding hot and because it serves as an accelerant to burn cabinets and counter-tops. We have seen the damage these fires can do time and time again with the hundreds of homes we have restored after such fires.

Here are some tips on what to do if you experience a grease fire.

  • First, attend to your cooking. The leading cause of home cooking fires is unattended cooking, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
  • Do not use water on a grease fire! Water and oil do not mix, so the water only causes the grease to splash, igniting other areas of the kitchen.
  • Do not try to carry the pan outside. The burning oil is very likely to splash, only spreading the fire.
  • Alert everyone in the home to the fire. These fires can start small but grow quickly. Plus, you may need some help. Plan your evacuation with everyone.
  • Call 911. Don’t wait or be embarrassed if the fire is out when they arrive. Better that than your entire home going up.
  • Smother the fire. Use the lid, but beware if its glass because those can shatter if the heat is too high.  If the lid isn’t easily assessable, then try baking soda. Open the box and just start dumping it on. It can take quite a bit to extinguish the flames.
  • Hit it with an extinguisher. This will make more of a mess, but again that’s better than losing your home. Have an extinguisher in the kitchen, stored at least 10 feet from the stove (you want to be able to get to it unimpeded by a stove fire).

As with most fires, prevention is the real key. Attend to your cooking, keep baking soda nearby and a well-charged fire extinguisher somewhere in the kitchen. A surefire way to avoid a kitchen fire: eat out.

What's In An Emergency Supply Kit

If a wildfire, hurricane or other disaster befalls you and your family, getting through the experience can be made considerably easier during the first few hours and days if you have prepared an emergency supply kit ahead of time. Each kit should be customized to fit your individual needs, but should also contain some standard items. Custom items to include: medications, baby supplies and important documents. Also, think about clothing. You may be outdoors overnight or during other weather events. The emergency supply kit matches up almost perfect for what you might bring on a camping trip, for that’s just what you might be doing for a few days if you are displaced from your home.

The recommended emergency supplies to include:

Water– At least a gallon per person per day, for both drinking and sanitation.

Food – At least a three-day supply of for that doesn’t require refrigeration.

Battery-powered radio – And NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both.

Flashlight – Again, with extra batteries.

First Aid Kit – Make sure to include reference material about first aid, which you can find on www.ready.gov.

Whistle – Much better to attract attention than yelling.

Moist towelettes – These babies are incredibly handy to clean up just about anything.

Dust mask – If you are caught in heavy smoke, a dust mask will help greatly. In a pinch, use a cotton t-shirt.

Plastic sheeting – Combined with duct tape is just about all you need to make a temporary shelter.

Adjustable wrench – Or a pair of channel-lock pliers or versatile tool. Important to turn off utilities.

Can opener – Your well-chosen cash of food won’t do you much good if you can’t get the cans open.

Clothing – One complete set for each person, including sturdy shoes. Also include for each person: jacket or coat, rain gear, long pants, long sleeve shirt, hat, leather gloves, a sleeping bag or heavy blanket.

Mess kits – Include paper plates, cups, plastic utensils and paper towels.

Fire extinguisher

Camping gear – Tent, compass, matches in a waterproof container, and signal flare.

Paper, pencil – You’ll want to take notes on events and leave notes.

Personal hygiene – Include feminine supplies.

Disinfectant

Chlorine bleach – Makes a good disinfectant (diluted 1/9 water) and can be used to treat water (16 drops per gallon of water). Include a medicine dropper.

Important documents – You will need insurance documents, identification, bank account information and proof of address (emergency workers will limit those returning to evacuated areas to residents only). Put everything in a waterproof, portable container.

When the Fire is Headed Toward Your Mountain Home

We have talked to enough people who have survived wildfires, and done enough research, to have a good idea of the steps one should take when a wildfire threatens. These are tips for those people who choose to stay and defend their property. We don’t necessarily recommend that course of action, but we have seen a large portion of homes saved that way. On the other hand, your life isn’t worth giving up to save a property that can be re-built. Only you can decide for yourself. But if you choose to stay, here are some tips that may help you beat back a wildfire:

Evacuate early—If you’re leaving, leave early. Road get overloaded with others leaving and with emergency vehicles, and can get closed due to shifting fire conditions. And driving in smoky conditions is dangerous. Always evacuate the elderly and young.

Remove hazards—If you haven’t already, clear the area around your home of combustible fuels. Cut the grass, rank the leaves and needles, cut away branches, cut branches well above the ground.

Gather tools – Assemble fire fighting tools – shovel, rake, handsaw, bucket, axe and ladder – in a place where you can easily get to them. Place the ladder against the house in clear view (if you evacuate, a firefighter may use it to access your roof).

Dress in cotton—Cotton and wool may burn but they won’t melt like nylon or polyester, which melt at low temperatures and are among the worst burns you can get. Wear jeans, a wide brim hat, a long-sleeve shirt, lace-up boots, goggles and a scarf.

Load up on water—Identify a water source or fill any good size receptacle with water. You may lose water pressure when the moment comes, and without a water source your chances of fighting the fire are greatly diminished. Also have buckets on hand to deliver the water to spot fires. Also, have a hose long enough to reach all around your home.
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Close all access—Embers are the enemy and you want to keep them outside. Embers rather than direct flame is how most fires travel, so close off any way for them to get inside to really combustible material.
Close windows, pet doors, basement vents and attic eaves. Also, remove flammable drapes and curtains,
and close all shutters, blinds or other non-flammable window coverings (it will greatly reduce radiant heat). Open the damper on your fireplace, but close the screen.

Close inside doors – Closing inside doors stops any drafts, which would feed a fire.

Wet down roof, lawn – As the fire nears, wet down your roof, walls and ground area surrounding your home. Especially hit the lawn if it is dead or brown.

Get the news—Ahead of time, figure out from what source you can get reliable, up-to-date news about the fire. Local radio stations are usually best for this.

Ready your car – Back the car into the driveway or garage, roll up the windows and shut the doors.
Leave the keys in the ignition. Have the map of your escape route in the car. Load the car with all those important papers, artwork, mementos, medicine, and anything else you can’t live without.

Pets – Place animals in carriers near the door to the car or in the car itself. Large animals – like horses or cattle – should be evacuated long before the oncoming fire, but if no time allows for that best to turn them loose and if not that then place in watered-down barn. Leave the door open for them to escape.(Read more in Wildfires and Horses)

Garage door opener – Disconnect the automatic garage door opener, if you have one. If the power goes out, you will still be able to open the garage doors. Keep the garage doors closed.

Report – If you see a wildfire with no crew fighting it, report it by calling 911. Firefighters can’t know every spot fire and can only respond if they know.

Stay aware – Even after the wall of the fire has passed, doesn’t mean that the danger has fully passed. Look for spot fires or smoldering material near your house and extinguish with water or dirt.

Check the house – Check all around your house for any signs of fire, including the roof. Extinguish right away; you never know when a strong wind might come up that will turn an ember into a flame.

How To Create a Defensible Zone to Protect Your Mountain Home

All indications are that this wildfire season will be every bit as dramatic as last year’s, when more than 7 million acres burned throughout the Southwestern United States, including major fires in Texas and Arizona.

Given the looming threat, I wanted to provide information to those who own homes in particularly fire prone areas with some ways to cut down on their home or cabin becoming another wildfire victim. One of the best ways to protect your homes is to create a “defensible zone” around your home. Now, a defensible zone doesn’t have to be devoid of vegetation, in fact, well-maintained vegetation can serve as a barrier to wildfires. The key is to eliminate the fuels where embers can land and expand the wildfire.
In our restoration of hundreds of homes, we have noticed a few details about those homes that survived wildfires and those that didn’t. Here are few tips on creating a defensible zone around your home:

  • Clear your roof, gutters, decks and side of the house of pine needles, leaves and other debris. This is just fuel for an ember to land on and really get going.
  • Screen all the openings to the basement, roof, attic, chimneys and stovepipes.  This keeps any fuel from accumulating in these spaces.
  • Make sure that all vegetation that is within 30 feet of your property is well watered, spaced apart and does not touch or overhang the house. However, if your home is on a slope of any kind, extend that zone and thin the vegetation up to 100 feet from your home.
  • Prune low-hanging branches and dead branches. This prevents a ground fire from climbing into upper branches.
  • Move any flammable materials or wood piles at least 30 feet from your home.
  • Cut the grass near your home. Again, just great fuel for a wildfire.
  • If your roof is made of wood shakes, say your prayers and double your insurance. Or, better yet, replace it with asphalt shingles, slate, cement shingles or metal. In our experience, wood shake roofs are the one common element of many of the homes lost in the wildfires on which we have served.

My hope is that you, your family and your mountain home all have a safe and fun summer, and that the only fires you have to confront are in your fireplace or grill.