Photo: Firefighters putting out a house fire
Firefighters put out a house fire.

Photograph by Ira Block

Catherine Clarke Fox

Take it from the experts—when it comes to house fires, kids can make a difference.

Did you know that more house fires start in the kitchen than in any other room? Three out of ten, in fact. October 5-11 is National Fire Prevention Week. In 2006, the theme was “Prevent Cooking Fires: Watch What You Heat.”

Most kitchen fires happen when people don’t keep an eye on the stove and the food burns, or something too close to the stove catches fire, or someone (maybe a toddler) turns the stove on by accident.

Fire prevention experts recommend that kids be at least 13 before using the stove without adult supervision. But there are plenty of things preteens can do to make the kitchen safe while helping out at mealtime, says Judy Comoletti of the National Fire Prevention Association.

For example, they can measure out a three-foot (one-meter) area around the stove and keep younger children and pets outside this “hot zone." They can also make sure items like curtains or dish towels, which can easily catch fire, are outside the zone as well.

“Kids can also sit at the kitchen table and create a fire-escape plan with the family, including two ways out and a meeting place,” says Comoletti. “And they can mark the calendar for one day each month to remind grown-ups to test the smoke alarms.”

Fast Fact
National Fire Prevention Week marks the anniversary of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  On October 8 of that year, a small fire in a barn spread so fast through the city that more than 250 people were killed, 100,000 lost their homes, and more than 17,000 buildings went up in smoke. The disaster changed the way people thought about fires. Afterwards, people realized just how fast and dangerous fire could be and began to focus on stopping fires before they start.

Text by Catherine Clarke Fox