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Oh my God, the chips!

A Victoria University researcher has rung the alarm bell on household fire safety with a study showing that many people endanger themselves when trying to extinguish fires at home.

PhD graduate Michelle Barnett found that most fires that were not attended by the fire brigade started in the kitchen or at the barbecue, but basic safety measures were seldom taken.

"It really is a case of 'oh my God, the chips!' as the old TV ad says," Dr Barnett said. "How people respond in situations such as burning pots of fat is a real cause for concern."

Her study found that more than two-thirds of household fires that people put out themselves were cooking-related, but only a small minority of attempts to extinguish them were safe.

"The most common response to a cooking fire was the removal of the pot from the flame - a hazard in itself that is specifically warned against by fire authorities," Dr Barnett said.

"Other dangerous methods of extinguishing the fire included dousing it with water or flour - also discouraged because it can often cause splashing that spreads the fire.

"The recommended method of extinguishing a cooking fire is to cover it with a fire blanket and allow the fire to die down and the pot to cool.

"Education campaigns targeting young and middle-aged adults with information on the correct way of handling cooking fires are clearly needed."

The leading cause of cooking fires was leaving the cooking unattended (67 per cent). Fat build-up in cooking equipment was a distant second (8.7 per cent), closely followed by oil spilling on a gas stove (7 per cent).  

The study found there is a 50 per cent chance that adults will experience a household fire during their lifetime.

Dr Barnett was awarded her PhD in psychology for her thesis earlier this month. She interviewed 500 Victorians about their experiences with home fires for her study.

Dr Barnett is available for comment.


Media contact: Jim Buckell, A/Senior Media Officer

Marketing and Communications Department, Victoria University

Ph: (03) 9919 4243; mobile: 0400 465 459; email: [email protected]

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