How to Put Out a Fire

Amy Newman
electrical fire

Fire is useful, but it can also be unpredictable, temperamental and deadly. According to the National Fire Protection Association one home fire occurs every 86 seconds. All fires are not created equal, and what works to extinguish one type can sometimes fan the flames of another. Following are ways to extinguish various fires - and when you should leave the firefighting to the professionals and get out.

Appliance Fire

Homes today are filled with dozens of small appliances, and all of them are potential fire hazards. A 2012 Consumer Reports investigation found that about half of all appliance fires are due to user error, while others are caused by mechanical or electrical problems. Depending on the appliance, you should do the following to extinguish the flames:

Microwave

Shut the door, turn the microwave off and unplug it, if you can reach the plug safely. The lack of oxygen should suffocate the flames.

Oven

Like microwave fires, close the oven door and turn it off. If flames begin to come out of the top, sides or bottom of the oven, reach for a multipurpose fire extinguisher or baking soda to put out the flames.

Television

A television can catch fire if there is insufficient space around it for air to circulate, or if objects are placed too close - think curtains, birthday cards, candles or other knick knacks - and the heat from the television causes them to ignite. Electrical components inside the television can also overheat and implode, causing a fire.

If smoke or flames are coming out of your television, unplug the cord and douse the flames with a fire extinguisher or water. Never try to smother the flames with a blanket, as you risk having it catch fire as well.

Electrical Fire

Electrical fires can be caused by problems with your home's wiring or appliance failure, but the majority are related to homeowner mistakes, such as overloading electrical outlets, running extension cords under carpet or other flooring and using a light bulb with a wattage higher than recommended for the light fixture.

Electrical fires are especially dangerous because your first instinct - to reach for a bucket of water to douse the flames - will actually cause the flames to spread, since water conducts electricity. To put out an electrical fire, you should:

  1. Reach for a multipurpose fire extinguisher or smother the flames with a blanket.
  2. Unplug the device from the electrical source if you can safely do so.
  3. Turn off power to the device from the main switch if you can safely do so.

Gas Fire

The natural gas that powers many stovetops, fireplaces and heating sources can overheat the surrounding structures (like a fireplace mantel) and set them on fire. If you smell a gas leak, you should call the gas company immediately and turn off the gas at its source.

Liquid gas fires (like gasoline) can be put out by smothering with a blanket. If that doesn't work, or if there's no blanket nearby, use a fire extinguisher. Water is ineffective in putting out a gas fire and can increase the chance of injury, as the heat from the fire will boil the water almost immediately, putting you at risk for steam burns.

Kitchen Grease Fire

Deep fried turkeys, counter top fryers, even a griddle of sizzling bacon can all set the stage for a kitchen grease fire. Grease fires occur when oil or grease collect in the cooking container and get hot enough to ignite. Like electrical fires, grease fires are extremely dangerous - not only do they burn very hot, but because grease is liquid it can easily splash on to other flammable surfaces or yourself.

Throwing water on a grease fire only increases the danger. The water will sink to the bottom of the pot, where it will become super-heated and eventually explode, sending scalding grease and water everywhere.

If you're faced with a kitchen grease fire, try these steps to extinguish it:

  1. Cover the flames with a pan lid. Avoid glass lids, as extreme heat may cause them to shatter.
  2. Smother the flames with baking soda. Avoid flour or sugar, which can lead to a dynamite-like explosion.
  3. Reach for a dry chemical fire extinguisher (a class K extinguisher will also work, but these are usually found in commercial kitchens).

Wood Burning Fireplace

Warm, cozy and inviting, wood burning fireplaces are the focal point of any room they are in. But if maintained or extinguished improperly or left unattended, the fire can quickly rage out of control.

If you are faced with a fireplace fire, don't treat it like a campfire and douse it with water. Not only will this create a mess and send ash flying throughout the room, it can also damage the fireplace. Instead, follow these steps:

  • Spread out the logs and embers to help cool the fire quickly.
  • Cover the logs and embers with ashes from the bottom of the fireplace.
  • Cover the logs and embers with sand or baking soda to ensure any smoldering embers are completely extinguished.

You shouldn't see any flames or feel any heat coming from a the fireplace if the fire was properly extinguished.

Vehicle Fire

Vehicle fires occur every 156 seconds and cause more than 300 deaths and 1,250 injuries per year. If you're faced with a vehicle fire, stay calm and get off the road as quickly and safely as possible - you don't want to risk causing an accident. If you can't get off the road, put on your hazard lights, stop the car and get out. Then, take these steps:

  • Turn off the ignition.
  • Get all passengers out of, and a safe distance away from the vehicle.
  • Do not open the hood of the car if flames or smoke are coming from underneath it. A sudden gust of air to the fire can create a fireball that may engulf you, the car and anybody around it.
  • You should only attempt to extinguish the flames if the fire is confined to inside the car and you have easy access to a fire extinguisher. Do not use water.

Campfire

If your summer plans include a wilderness campout, take Smokey the Bear's advice and learn how to prevent forest fires. The secret? Keep the flames to a manageable size, never leave it unattended and, when you've gotten your fill of roasted marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick, follow these steps to extinguish your campfire properly:

  • Burn wood down to ash.
  • Drown all embers with plenty of water - and keep pouring until you no longer hear a hissing sound (if you don't have water, use dirt).
  • Stir the ashes and embers, and scrape any remaining embers from sticks and logs used to maintain the fire.
  • Make sure debris in the fire pit is wet and cold to the touch - if it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave.

When to Get Out

Fires - even those that start small - can quickly rage out of control. It takes only two minutes for a fire to turn from manageable to life-threatening, and only five before the house is engulfed in flames. The heat and smoke from a fire are also extremely dangerous. Smoke inhalation can suffocate you, and the super-heated air can burn your nose and lungs.

Some fire departments recommended calling 911 immediately if a fire of any size breaks out in your home. If you do attempt to put out a fire by yourself, act quickly, and keep yourself between the fire and an exit so you have a quick escape. If the fire does not begin to die down almost immediately, get everybody in the house out.

If a fire breaks out in your home, act responsibly. If your attempts to extinguish the flames do nothing, drop everything and get out. Nothing in the house is worth saving more than your life.

How to Put Out a Fire