Fires can happen quickly, and they can be super scary. So knowing how to put them out safely should be home safety 101 for everyone. According to the National Safety Council, one home fire is reported every 88 seconds. So, while it seems like fires only happen to other people, they could happen to you. Being prepared is your best defense.
If something in your home catches on fire, the first thing to know is that there are many types of fires — and what works to extinguish one type can sometimes fan the flames of another. That's why it's so important to understand how to put out a fire and what to do and use depending on the type of fire it is. And since your safety (and your family's) is so crucial, we also have important information about when you shouldn't attempt to put out a fire but should get everyone to safety and call in professionals.
How to Put Out Fires by Type
Our quick chart is a handy reference for what you can and can't use to put out different types of fires.
|What to Use
|What Never to Use
|Type B fire extinguisher
|Do not attempt - get to safety 100 feet away
How to Put Out Kitchen Fires
According to the American Red Cross, home fires are most likely to start in the kitchen. Given the amount of heat and flammable materials you use when you cook, it's probably not surprising that cooking starts almost half of all home fires. It's essential you understand how to put out kitchen fires, but there are different ways to deal with a cooking fire depending on the source of the flames.
Microwave & Oven Fires
If a fire breaks out in your microwave or oven, keep the doors closed and turn off the heat source. If it's safe to do so, disconnect it from power. With the door closed, the lack of oxygen should suffocate the flames. But if the flames begin to come out of the top, sides, or bottom of your oven or microwave, reach for a multipurpose fire extinguisher or baking soda to put them out.
When using a fire extinguisher, always aim at the base and source of the flames.
We all love fried food, but when you're frying, there's always a fire risk. Deep-fried turkeys, countertop fryers, and even a griddle of sizzling bacon can all set the stage for a kitchen grease fire. Grease fires happen when oil or grease collects in the cooking container and gets hot enough to ignite. Kitchen grease fires are extremely dangerous because they burn very hot, and grease can easily splash onto other flammable surfaces or even you.
Never throw water, flour, or sugar on a grease fire.
Throwing water on a grease fire only increases the danger. The water will sink to the bottom of the pot, where it will become super-heated and eventually explode, sending scalding grease and water everywhere.
If you're faced with a kitchen grease fire, try these steps to extinguish it:
- Turn the heat off, and don't move the pot since this may cause the burning oil to splash.
- Cover the flames with a metal pan lid. Avoid glass lids, as extreme heat may cause them to shatter.
- You can put out a smaller fire by smothering the flames with baking soda. Avoid flour or sugar, which can lead to a dynamite-like explosion.
- Reach for a Class B dry chemical fire extinguisher (a Class K extinguisher will also work, but these are usually found in commercial kitchens).
What to Do About Electrical Fire
An estimated 24,000 residential building electrical fires were reported to fire departments in 2021, causing 295 deaths and 900 injuries, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Faulty wiring is a common cause of electrical fires, but the majority are related to homeowner mistakes, such as overloading electrical outlets, dryer lint accumulation, using too many extension cords, or allowing devices to overheat.
Never use water to put out an electrical fire.
Electrical fires are especially dangerous because your first instinct — to reach for a bucket of water to douse the flames — can be an electrocution hazard since water conducts electricity. To put out an electrical fire:
- Reach for a multipurpose fire extinguisher, type C fire extinguisher, or use baking soda to extinguish the fire.
- Unplug the device from the electrical source if you can safely do so.
- Turn off power to the device from the main switch if you can safely do so — especially if there is smoke, fire, or a strange odor coming from your appliances.
Older televisions can catch fire if there's insufficient space for air to circulate or if objects are placed too close — think curtains, birthday cards, candles, or other knick knacks — and the heat from the television causes them to ignite. Electrical components inside any television can also overheat and implode, causing a fire.
If smoke or flames are coming from your television, unplug the cord and douse the flames with a multipurpose fire extinguisher or baking soda.
Never try to smother the flames with a blanket (unless it's a fire blanket), as you risk having it catch fire, too.
How to Put Out Fires From Heating Equipment
According to the National Fire Protection Association, home heating equipment is one of the leading causes of home fire deaths. These types of fires account for about 13% of all reported home fires and can include fires from the kitchen, gas, fireplaces, and space heaters.
The natural gas that powers many stovetops, fireplaces, and heating sources can overheat the surrounding structures (like a fireplace mantel) and set them on fire. If you smell a gas leak, call the gas company immediately and turn off the gas at its source.
Liquid gas fires (like gasoline) must be put out with a Class B fire extinguisher. Do not use water to try putting out a gas fire because it can increase the chance of injury, as the heat from the fire will boil the water almost immediately, putting you at risk for steam burns.
Never use water to put out a gas fire.
Space Heater Fires
Treat a space heater fire as an electrical fire. Immediately unplug the heater, leave it where it is, and use a multi-purpose fire extinguisher to put out the flames.
Wood-Burning Fireplace Fires
Warm, cozy, and inviting, wood-burning fireplaces are the focal point of any room. But if maintained or extinguished improperly or left unattended, the fire can quickly rage out of control.
If you are faced with a fireplace fire, don't treat it like a campfire and douse it with water. Not only will this create a mess and send ash flying throughout the room, but it can also damage the fireplace. Instead, follow these steps:
- Let the fire burn out naturally — stop feeding it with new firewood.
- Spread out the logs and embers to help cool the fire quickly.
- Cover the logs and embers with ashes from the bottom of the fireplace.
- Cover the logs and embers with baking soda to ensure any smoldering embers are completely extinguished. You can also use sand, but the baking soda is less messy.
You shouldn't see any flames or feel any heat coming from the fireplace if the fire was properly extinguished. Always extinguish the fire properly and completely when you've been burning in the fireplace before you leave it unattended.
How to Deal With Vehicle Fires
If you're faced with a vehicle fire, stay calm and get off the road as quickly and safely as possible — you don't want to risk causing an accident. If you can't get off the road, put on your hazard lights, stop the car, and get out. Then, take these steps:
- Turn off the car's engine.
- Get all passengers out of the car, and do not try to put out the vehicle fire yourself.
- Don't open the car's hood if flames or smoke are coming from underneath it. A sudden gust of air to the fire can create a fireball that may engulf you, the car, and anybody around it.
- Move yourself and everyone else at least 100 feet from the burning vehicle and away from traffic.
- Call 911 as soon as everyone is safe and away from the vehicle.
How to Put Out a Campfire
If your summer plans include a wilderness campout, take Smokey the Bear's advice and learn how to prevent forest fires. The secret? Keep the flames to a manageable size, never leave it unattended, and when you've gotten your fill of roasted marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick, follow these steps to extinguish your campfire properly:
- Burn wood down completely to ash.
- Drown all embers with plenty of water — and keep pouring until you no longer hear a hissing sound (if you don't have water, use a shovel to put dirt or sand on the embers).
- Stir the ashes and embers with a shovel, and scrape any remaining embers from sticks and logs used to maintain the fire.
- Continue to add water, dirt, or sand until the debris is cold to the touch. If it's too hot to touch, it's too hot to leave.
Fire Pit Fires
Backyard fire pits are the perfect summer gathering spot. You should always put them out properly before heading indoors. Just like with a campfire, you can put out a fire pit by letting the wood burn to ash and then cooling the fire.
- Stop adding fresh logs to the fire an hour before you plan to extinguish it.
- Wait for everything to burn to ash.
- Use water to douse the fire pit. You can also use dirt or sand to put out the embers.
- Stay until the fire pit and surrounding area has cooled off completely.
A snuffer — a large metal sheet that you can put over the fire pit to extinguish the flames by blocking the flow of oxygen — isn't necessary, but many designs come equipped with them. The day after using your fire pit, clean up the cooled ashes to keep your fire pit from rusting.
When to Call 911 for a Fire
Fires are dangerous and scary. Any time you encounter one and don't feel you can safely control it, call 911. Fires — even those that start small — can quickly rage out of control. It takes less than 30 seconds for a small fire to turn into a major one. A manageable fire can turn life-threatening in just two minutes. And your house can become engulfed in flames in only five. The heat and smoke from a fire are also extremely dangerous. Smoke inhalation can suffocate you, and the super-heated air can burn your lungs and melt clothes to your skin. So, always err on the side of caution. Don't put yourself or your family at risk.
Some fire departments recommend calling 911 immediately if a fire of any size breaks out in your home. If you do attempt to put out a fire by yourself, act quickly and keep yourself between the fire and an exit so you have a quick escape. If the fire does not begin to die down almost immediately, get everybody in the house out.
Stay Safe if a Fire Breaks Out
If a fire breaks out in your home, act responsibly. If your attempts to extinguish the flames do nothing, drop everything and get out. Your lives and the lives of your loved ones are more valuable than anything left in the burning house.