Cooking equipment, including ranges, ovens, and microwaves, account for the largest percentage of residential fires in the U.S., according to data released by the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Over a three-year period from 2008 to 2010, there was an estimated annual average of 147,400 cooking equipment-related fires, which is roughly 40 percent of all residential fires for that period.
The CPSC data is consistent with findings from Consumer Reports' investigation into appliance fires. For example, in our analysis of fire data from the National Fire Incident Reporting System, ranges were by far the biggest cause of fires. Ranges also prompted the largest number of fire-related complaints to SaferProducts.gov.
Our investigation also looked at safety design enhancements that have made appliances safer, such as anti-jamming mechanics on toasters and automatic shutoff on coffeemakers. And we discusses untapped technologies, including pan-bottom temperature sensors able to mitigate the risks of unattended cooking fires.
In August 2012, the CPSC published the results of a study it commissioned on the efficacy of temperature-limiting controls on gas, electric coil, smoothtop ceramic, and induction cooktops. The controls were effective at preventing fires on every type of cooktop. Plus they didn't interfere with the cooktops' ability to perform high-temperature tasks, such as boiling water or searing steaks. Based on those results, the CPSC concluded that "it is long past due to commit to changes to the range standards to reduce the likelihood of these food fires."
Last month, the Fire Protection Research Foundation, an affiliate of the National Fire Protection Associate, announced that it had received a grant to investigate safety technologies for cooking appliances. That's more good news for consumers, though the project won't be finished until 2013.
In the meantime, many cooking-related fires will occur, especially as we head into the busy holiday season. That's why it's vital to follow best practices by avoiding unattended cooking, especially if you're frying, grilling, and broiling food. When simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly and don't leave the house while the cooktop or oven is on. And if there are small children at home, maintain a kids-free-zone of at least three feet and use back burners when possible.