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An unattended grease fire on Camp Foster not only destroyed dinner but also totaled the stove, says Recil Mabry, assistant chief for fire prevention for Marine Corps bases on Okinawa.

An unattended grease fire on Camp Foster not only destroyed dinner but also totaled the stove, says Recil Mabry, assistant chief for fire prevention for Marine Corps bases on Okinawa. (Recil Mabry / U.S. Marine Corps)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — There’s a flip side to the old saying about watched pots never boiling.

It’s “Unwatched pots (and pans and stoves) sometimes catch fire.”

In Recil Mabry’s 25 years as a firefighter, he said, perhaps the most common — and most preventable — blazes he’s seen are kitchen fires caused by inattentive home chefs.

“If you’re cooking in the home, pay attention to that and nothing else,” said Mabry, assistant chief for fire prevention for Marine Corps bases on Okinawa.

He advised having a fire extinguisher available and never leaving the kitchen while cooking.

“Recently, there have been numerous fires in military housing units on Okinawa that started in the kitchen,” Mabry said in a recent telephone interview.

“Everyone must pay attention when cooking meals on a stove. Most kitchen fires start with the ignition of food or grease and can quickly spread to the cabinets, wallpaper or plastic bags and curtains.”

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, in 2001 some 117,100 home fires in the United States were related directly to cooking, Mabry said.

Those fires resulted in 370 deaths, 4,290 injuries and $453 million in property damage.

“Three in every 10 reported home fires start in the kitchen,” he said. “And two out of three home cooking fires started with the stove.”

Mabry said he’s talked to families who’ve left a pot of beans on the stove, erroneously thinking there was enough time to run to the base exchange. Other times, the cook decided to retire to the living room to watch television.

“There’s really no excuse for fires like these,” he said. “It’s just being inattentive.”

The worst cooking fire he personally has experienced, he said, was at Tinker Air Force Base, Okla., where a grease fire burned the whole kitchen of a single-family home.

“It was ruined,” Mabry said. “But think about what could happen here on Okinawa, where most of the family housing is multi-family. A fire like this in the towers would affect the whole floor.”

Tips for preventing kitchen fires

Recil Mabry, assistant chief for fire prevention for Marine Corps bases on Okinawa, offers these safety tips for preventing kitchen fires:

Never leave cooking food on stove tops unattended and always keep a close eye on food cooking inside ovens.Keep the cooking area clean and clear of combustibles such as potholders, rags, towels and food packaging.Make cooking areas “kid- and pet-free.” Always keep children at least 3 feet from the stove.Wear short sleeves or roll up your sleeves when cooking. Loose clothing dangling over stove burners can catch fire.Always have a dry potholder and lid handy. Grease fires must be smothered.Never pour water on a grease fire and never discharge a fire extinguisher onto a pan fire — such acts only spread the fire.— David Allen

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