fire safety, kitchen fire, kitchen fire safety, family fire drill,

Kitchen on Fire and Fire Safety

Christmas Kitchen Fire and Family Fire Safety

My sister’s house caught on fire on Christmas day and it was kind of my fault. You see, we were Skyping her for the first time. My husband and brother-in-law had set up a Skype time so that we could talk to her family and  my mom on Christmas day. We were in our family room. They were in their garage where my brother-in-law has his photography lab set up.

Our roast was in the oven and it was mid-afternoon our time on the East Coast. They were three hours back and were between Christmas events having come back from a family Christmas brunch and headed out to a dinner in a few hours.

We were chatting pleasantly with my mom and brother-in-law. My niece and nephew were playing in their house but my kids were crowded around our computer. My sister joined us for five minutes. She returned to the kitchen and all of a sudden we heard, “Fire!”

There was some scrambling. We saw my sister and brother-in-law rush past us, fire extinguishers in hand (the small kind).

“Someone call the fire department!”

“Get the hose!”

“No, it’s an oil fire. Don’t use water.”

“Get the kids out!”

Finally, they said they had to go as black smoke plumed across the computer Skype screen.

My nearly 90-year-old mother opened the garage door and hobbled outside.


We were in shock! We prayed my sister and family would not lose their house. She’s a piano teacher and all I could think was her concert grand piano ruined from water or fire. 10 very tense minutes passed. We felt so terrible that they were Skyping us and this caused their fire.

Then, we got this image texted to us:

The fire was out and it was contained to the stove area. My sister was heating oil to fry dumplings for the party and when she stepped away for those 5 short minutes, her stove somehow burst into flames. The cabinets and hood were in flames.

fire safety, kitchen fire, kitchen fire safety, family fire drill,

She had 2 small fire extinguishers in her house. But … a cautionary warning:

  • Two were not enough.
  • She said they lasted about 5 seconds each.
  • One put out the pan.
  • The other put out the side cabinets.
  • My brother-in-law put out the hood fire with the hose.
  • The fire extinguishers were also confusing to use. You actually DON’T pull down on the handle to release. Instead there is a small button the top. Luckily my sister figured it out.

fire extinguisher, fire safety for kids, fire safety for families

The fire department arrived within 10 minutes. The fire was out thanks to the quick thinking of my sister and brother-in-law but they said had they not put it out, their house would have been destroyed. If the fire had penetrated the vent above the hood, it would have raced uncontrolled throughout their house. If they had tried water on the stove, it would have spread and even caused third degree burns like a similar fire a week ago in their town.

Fire Family Drill

This has prompted my husband to buy additional fire extinguishers and mount them throughout the house. We also have folding ladders in the upstairs bedrooms. He wants us to conduct a family fire drill.

fire safety, emergency folding ladder


We haven’t done the fire drill yet but I’ll post on it when we do. It’s a cold and slippery to be climbing out of a second story window in the dead of a New England winter.

My sister says the large fire extinguishers are better but they are heavy. I’d personally opt for 5 or more of the smaller ones throughout your house.


As for my sister’s house, they were very, very lucky. They were also good under pressure. It saved their house. Despite the limited damage, they still had to move out of their house to get a special smoke cleaning crew who spent a week getting the soot and odor out of their house. She’s now in the process of redoing her kitchen so I guess that is the silver lining to this near tragedy.

Our lesson: never Skype anyone who’s cooking!

p.s. My husband likes Beavis and Butthead so this is his contribution…

By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom


  1. Alexandra

    Oh so glad to hear it was “only” the kitchen…I don’t know how they could be so calm – I admire that, I am totally useless under such pressure. It’s like you always think you will be the cold-blooded one; have the perfect solution for everything but when it comes to real life it is easier said than done.
    And of course it is not your fault – the lesson should be – don’t skype when YOU are cooking! 🙂
    Alexandra recently posted…25 questions, 25 answersMy Profile

    • Hi Alexandra,
      You are so right about not being sure how anyone will react under pressure. Thank goodness it was alright in the end. My sister is now renovating her kitchen and while it’s been a big pain, the end result will be lovely. They were remarkably calm under pressure. I think my family would have to run drills to get the same results! In fact, it’s on our TO DO List but we haven’t done it yet. We should though!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Kitchen on Fire and Fire SafetyMy Profile

  2. Sorry to hear about that Christmas fire. It was certainly not your fault. It is important to know about the kinds of fires and do practice drills. One day my son-in-law threw a whole wad of fire starter sticks in my woodstove to get the fire going, He sure did!. The thermometer on the flue went up to 900 degrees F and sparks flew out of the chimney on my roof. Luckily, I was able to close the flue and keep the blaze from leaving the stove. We were able to get it out with an extinguisher. Now I keep one right next to the stove, which I am very, very cautious in using.

    • Hi Barbara,
      Oh WOW! A woodstove does sound like you’d need special training to operate! Practice fire drills are a good idea and we need to actually do it instead of talk about it! I think we will this Spring when the snow melts in a few months since it will involve climbing down a ladder out the window from the 2nd floor.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Kitchen on Fire and Fire SafetyMy Profile

  3. Kim

    Great reminder to check the expiration on my fire extinguishers. Also, great insight on two small ones not being enough. Thanks for sharing your lesson learned.

  4. Thank you for the reminder. I am glad that your sister and her family were all safe!
    Not your fault, by the way.
    Cool Mom recently posted…Book Review: A Fun Science Fiction Book for Tweens and Free Books on KindleMy Profile

  5. I had no idea the little fire extinguishers lasted such a short time! We had a small kitchen fire a few years ago when my FRIDGE suddenly caught fire! There was some sort of electrical wiring error, apparently. Luckily I was sitting in the living room when it happened, smelled the smoke right away, and had the presence of mind to shut off the power to the house. The fire fighters got here really quickly, too.

    When Mike and I were newlyweds living in an apartment complex the apartment across from us had to be completely gutted because they threw water on a grease fire. There was a fire extinguisher right outside their door, but they hadn’t even thought of that.
    maryanne recently posted…Window Art for Kids!My Profile

    • Hi Maryanne,
      Wow, you were on your toes to think of shutting off the electricity. That’s actually a great point because the Electrical Panel is always in some hidden spot and the throwing the switches is not that obvious. Good advice for all of us to know where the panel is and how to shut off the electricity. I never thought of that.

      To summarize from our lesson here:
      1) IS THE FIRE ELECTRICAL? Shut off main power source to the house. ie find the electrical panel in your house and throw the switches to off.

      2) IS THE FIRE OIL OR GREASE? Do not use water! You can use BAKING SODA (but you’d have to have planned this because who has a pound of baking soda lying around)? Or use a fire extinguisher. Make sure you know how to turn it on. It’s the BUTTON not the HANDLE. The small fire extinguishers don’t last very long, so have several in your house and know where they are.

      3) IS THE FIRE WOOD OR PAPER? Use the fire extinguisher but you can also use water. Note that too much water in your house though also causes damage.

      4) CAN YOU SMOTHER THE FIRE … by covering the lid of the pot? … or closing the flue if in a fireplace? … or using baking soda?


      6) DOES EVERYONE KNOW WHO TO CALL? My kids did not all know 911 by the way


      8) Run FIRE DRILLS annually at home.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Kitchen on Fire and Fire SafetyMy Profile

  6. We get that a lot before–not the fire but burning our food and pots/pans. My husband likes to cook but he has the habit of watching tv while doing it. I stop counting the number of utencils we replaced over time. Now, whenever he cooks, I stay in the kitchen just in case.
    Cristina recently posted…Portrait of a FreelancerMy Profile

  7. So glad everyone is safe and the house didn’t burn to the ground. Such a great reminder to all of us that we should have those important safety tools on hand and be ready with a plan. Again, so glad that everyone is ok!
    Jacquie recently posted…50 Great Learning Items for Your Child’s Easter BasketMy Profile

  8. It must have been so tormenting for you thinking that fire broke out because you were skyping. It’s not your fault, I hope you and your family found comfort. Glad that your mum and everybody else came out of it safely.
    Viren recently posted…The Importance of Email Marketing To WomenMy Profile

    • Thank you for your kind words Viren! We did feel terrible but thankfully, as you say, it all turned out ok since my sister and her family were safe and the fire was contained. Now she is renovating her kitchen so that is the silver lining! No more Skyping her when she’s cooking (or anyone for that matter!).
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Kitchen on Fire and Fire SafetyMy Profile

  9. Hi, this is Mia’s sister, Noreen. First of all, Mia should know that the fire definitely NOT her fault. In fact, it probably wasn’t completely my fault either. I was heating oil in a saucepan on medium heat and stepped away for only a few minutes and when I returned, the hood had already caught fire. While talking to the fire department, we surmised that something unusual probably happened. It usually takes several minutes to heat oil in a pan for deep frying, so perhaps oil dripped from the hood or maybe the gas went out for a second and reignited, or maybe the oil spattered from the pan and ignited the hood. We’ll never know exactly what happened, but it definitely wasn’t Mia’s fault, and could have happened whether I was standing there or not.

    My husband and I were especially amazed that our two children, ages 7 and 9, remained so calm under fire ( no pun intended!) The whole thing happened so quickly, in a matter in a few minutes. We immediately told the kids to get grandma out of the house and wait out in front with us. The kids had my phone and my son had my old iphone that he uses for games. That phone has wifii, but no cell service and I always told him that if he ever called 911 and it was not an actually emergency, the fire trucks would come to our house and we would get a huge fine. As my husband and I were dealing with the fire extinguishers, he yelled “call 911!” I couldn’t stop what I was doing, and unbeknownst to us, our nine-year-old son called 911 from in front of the house and talked to the first responder, giving them all of the necessary information. A minute later, he called 911 again to let them know that the fire trucks had not yet arrived and could they please get here soon! We realized later how important it was that our children knew their home address, including the zip code, home and cell phone numbers, and that they would act instinctively and independently in an emergency. We talked to both of them afterwards, complementing them on how well they followed instructions, by not coming back into the house to grab anything, staying with grandma, and taking her to the neighbors afterwards.

    One of the most important lessons that we learned is that the fire extinguishers saved our house. We had two smaller ones, one in the kitchen and one in the garage. Now we have four, one also in each bathroom cabinet towards the back of the house. It’s a better idea to get smaller ones that everyone can handle, that you can keep easily accessible, rather than one large one that’s buried in the back of a closet or garage. If we didn’t have any fire extinguishers, our house would have burned down to the ground. The fire captain said that there was a similar fire the day before, but they threw water on the oil fire. Not only did the person suffer major burns, but it actually spread the fire and the house was a total loss.

    At the end of the day we are truly grateful in so many way: Everyone is safe, everything we lost is replaceable, and can you hear the saws in the background? Forced kitchen remodel! I miss you Mia and let’s skype soon! xoxo

    • Hi Noreen,
      Thanks for weighing in and for such great advice on what to do in case of a fire now that you are tested and true. Your kids WERE amazing! What presence of mind all of you had. And I’m so thankful that everyone is ok and that at least you are getting a new kitchen out of all of this. All I could think at the time was — OH NO! Not her grand piano! No water in the house or her pianos will be destroyed!! Thank goodness the water damage was minimal but I had no idea that the smoke damage would be so extensive given that the fire was contained.

      We all learned a lot from your experience. Thanks for sharing.

      p.s. We now have 4 more small fire extinguishers in our house!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Kitchen on Fire and Fire SafetyMy Profile

  10. Ann

    Thanks for sharing this story! So glad everyone is safe and I know this will help me any many others take more fire safety precautions!
    Ann recently posted…Survive the DriveMy Profile

  11. Hi,
    I would love to be added to your collaborative pinterest board “Best Books for Kids.” I am an elementary school librarian and would love to contribute to your board. My pinterest is

  12. Jeanette Nyberg

    Amazing. I’m so glad to hear that everything worked out okay in the end- Honestly, I don’t think we even own 1 fire extinguisher. That’s going to change tomorrow. You know, we parents need these safety training sessions as much as kids do. I haven’t really learned about fire safety since 4th grade.
    Jeanette Nyberg recently posted…Microwave Puffy PaintMy Profile

    • Hi Jeanette,
      I also realized that though we have fire extinguishers, I have no idea how to operate them. They are confusing too since it looks like you pull down on the handle but who has the presence of mind to read the directions during an actual fire. There’s actually a tiny button on top that you press. I would like to test that out to be sure I know how it works.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Education Search Engine: Noodle.orgMy Profile

  13. I’m just glad that your sister figured out how to use the extinguisher in time and you guys were safe so as the house except the kitchen. It’s important to keep calm in this kind of situation, do not panic to think fast. Fire drill is quite a great idea, so as a lesson on how to use the fire extinguisher properly.
    Ebony recently posted…Bastrop ISD Receives Waiver on Some Academic RequirementsMy Profile

  14. That’s what I’ve been telling my wife. Two fire extinguishers are never enough. Glad that the damage is only minimum. Your sister and brother-in-law are still lucky.
    Aras Androck recently posted…The new nubriMy Profile

    • Hi Aras,
      You are right! If your fire extinguishers are the small kind, it wasn’t enough. If they are the huge, big kind, then you are ok. But the home fire extinguishers do not last very long when sprayed … my sister was surprised too! Luckily they got the fire out using the hose and the hood fire wasn’t a grease one so that worked. Otherwise the water would have spread the fire on the stove grease fire and burnt down the house entirely.
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Columbus Day ControversyMy Profile

  15. Wow, what a dramatic and captivating account. It’s scary how fast things happen. Great suggestions and real-life example. Thank you for sharing your story.
    Sarah recently posted…Children’s Fire Safety Tips for ParentsMy Profile

    • Hi Sarah,
      Every Christmas and Thanksgiving now when we call my sister and her family, we check to make sure the stove is turned off LOL! The upshot though is that my sister got her dream kitchen though in a way that no one should envy. I’m just glad it all worked out in the end! And be sure to have a LOT of fire extinguishers in your house is our lesson learned!!
      Pragmatic Mom recently posted…Top 10 YA Books and Kid Lit Blog HopMy Profile

  16. Sorry to hear about the incident. But I am glad that no one got harmed with the fire. Just make sure to learn the lesson soon. And good luck for the renovation.

  17. Thank you for sharing this unfortunate story! I would never know how long those tiny fire extinguishers last because I have never used one, but now it’s obvious you probably need more than one or two!

Leave a Comment

CommentLuv badge