A Corvallis Writer’s Almost Kitchen Fire: Of Stove Tops and Smoke Alarms

The remains of the cutting board that could have burned down a South Corvallis home if not for a reliable smoke alarm and quick fire extinguishing action. Photo by Dan Crall.

It was a dreary February evening, a noticeable chill in the calm, motionless air. My wife and I had put our three-year-old to bed, and concluded we’d spend a relaxing evening maybe catching up on The Daily Show or some podcasts.

“Can you put some hot water on for me, Love?” she gently asked.

I went into the kitchen and looked briefly at the stove’s knob before turning it on and placing a tea kettle on the top-right burner. I usually give the burner knob a thorough look to ensure I am turning on the correct one; for some reason, I was only paying about half the attention I should have this time. I also didn’t think to remove the clutter on the nearby counter and part of the stove, which included a plastic cutting board. I went back to the bedroom, not getting entirely settled since I expected to be summoned by a whistling kettle within five minutes.

Moments later as I sat reading the usual trife on Facebook, the sound of the smoke alarm rang through the hallway. I looked up to a stream of smoke along the hall ceiling; I bolted out of bed, only to see the red-orange glow of large flames reflecting off our refrigerator. I darted through a cloud of highly toxic smoke to attend to this developing disaster. On the front-right burner was a flaming cutting board with more ignited plastic under the burner. I grabbed the cutting board and threw it into a sink of soaking dishes. A fire still remained on the stove, but my wife abruptly entered. Wasting no time, she grabbed a fire extinguisher and released a thorough blast.

After extinguishing the flames, we had no choice but to open every window and door, and take a family walk to escape the hazardous air slowly flowing out of the house. The cleanup took about four hours, which included scraping off chunks of plastic, wiping up the coat of fire extinguisher dust from our kitchen space, and disposing of contaminated food and wood-ware. The hardest part was ridding the house of the leftover scent of plastic death, which hung around for almost 24 hours to some degree. It was quite a debacle, even considering the small size of the fire. I came out having learned a dire lesson in checking the burners and stove every time without fail, though more importantly, a dedicated advocate for up-to-date, fully functioning smoke detectors. Our smoke detector was the most important factor in diverting a larger disaster on our home, our lives, and beyond.

Without going into statistics of how many fires start because of faulty or non-existing smoke detectors, I’ll offer this as the moral of the story: Make sure your smoke alarm is fully functioning! If you don’t already test your device monthly, perhaps you can check it every time you pay the rent or mortgage. Prepare in other ways, too, such as by having several working fire extinguishers around the home. Do not neglect your lifeline, or risk losing your possessions, dwelling, the lives of your family… you get the idea. I learned the importance of this firsthand, and want you to be spared the relatively insignificant event of a four-hour cleanup, or worse.

by Dan Crall