Unexpected Side Effect of Quarantine: We're All Setting Our Kitchens on Fire

Scald burns and house fires are on the rise as amateur cooks under stay-at-home orders realize they have no idea what they're doing.
kitchen fire cooking coronavirus
Photo: Getty Images

Two weeks ago, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urged everyone who is currently stuck at home to take a little extra care in the kitchen, because firefighters know how bad we can all be at cooking for ourselves.

According to the NFPA, cooking is the number-one cause of fires in the home, and just under half (49 percent) of all household fires involve cooking equipment. "As many households are now dealing with unusual routines and out-of-the-ordinary circumstances, such as kids home from school and parents working from home, there’s greater potential for distracted cooking,” Lorraine Carli, the vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA, said in a statement.


Whether it is because we're all fixing the majority of our meals at home, or because we're constantly turning our attention to every terrifying thing that's happening in the world, or a combination of the two, the NFPA was right: We're accidentally catching our kitchens on fire with disturbing regularity now.

"[W]e knew this was going to happen. We have seen an uptick in fires,” Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian Geraci said last week, repeating the NFPA's warning against cooking while distracted. “This is not the time to have a fire in your home. Where are you going to go? The Red Cross is putting people up at hotels but after that it’s going to be hard because we’re all practicing social distancing."

Fire departments in California, Florida, Minnesota and New York have all reported increases in the number of house fires in recent days, due to an increase in the number of people staying home. Meanwhile, doctors in Australia say that there has been a significant increase in patients with severe burns since the state of Victoria went under lockdown.

"We’ve seen burns from hot cooking oil catching fire, barbecue-related burns, and scald burns from hot liquids," Heather Cleland, the director of the Victorian Adult Burns Service at the Alfred Hospital told the Sydney Morning Herald.

"These burns usually involve hands, arms and faces. Frequently, people who are trying to deal with burning oil, pick it up and try and take it outside but what usually happens is the oil spills on them or they fall and slip into a puddle of burning oil." (Cleland also said that a number of burns were also caused by people who were cooking while they were intoxicated, or from those who mistakenly put accelerants on their barbecue grills.)

These burns are serious, not just because of the level of treatment or rehabilitation that they could require, but because severe burn patients often require a stay in the hospital's intensive care unit. And, right now, medical facilities don't have extra ICU beds to spare.

Back in the States, Nassau County (N.Y.) Fire Chief John Murray recommended that everyone should clean their ovens regularly; that we should know never to use water to put out a grease fire; and that if we have a fire extinguisher in the kitchen, we should know how to use it before we have to use it. "Fire extinguishers, I have mixed feelings on that," he told WCBS Newsradio. "It can be used improperly, and it can actually spread the fire.”

That's all solid advice. And eating a bag of Doritos or a box of Captain Crunch isn't being lazy right now—it's playing it safe. Like that Fire Marshal said, "Where are you going to go?"