Fires are perhaps the biggest realistic disaster to potentially occur in a restaurant. According to the National Fire Protection Association, there is an average of 8,240 fires at restaurants a year, with an average of two civilian deaths, 115 injuries, and $245 million+ in property damage. Around 40% of restaurant fires start in the kitchen, and nearly 20% of those can be traced to the stove. Here are some of the top causes of these fires, and what can be done to prevent them.
Exhaust System and Ductwork
One of the main ways fires can spread so viciously in restaurants is due to the ventilation work and exhaust system. The vents and fans behind cooking equipment, like ovens and stoves, can experience grease buildup and extract flammable vapors. This also includes oven hoods. If these areas are maintained and cleaned regularly, the risk of fire, or at least the extent of the fire if one does occur, drastically decreases.
Type of Oil and Grease Traps
Cooking oil and animal fat, two of the primary agents used in restaurant cooking, burn at extremely high temperatures that can be comparable to those found in regular fuel oil, around 900-1100 °C. Animal fat melts at 40 °C, and smokes at 120 -220 °C, while normal cooking oil begins to smoke at 150-250 °C. The oil degrades and becomes combustible at this step of the process. The NFPA found in 2017 that food itself, including these oils, were the first items ignited in 43% of restaurant fires.
These oils and fats used in cooking are prone to clogging sewers, and therefore cannot be simply flushed down the drain; fat and oil buildups are found to cause nearly half of annual sewer overflows in the U.S. Restaurants, therefore, keep large underground metal containers that trap these oils instead, keeping them out of the sewer system. Since these materials are very flammable, they pose a fire risk if not properly emptied and cleaned; high-volume kitchens are mandated to clean them four times a year, while smaller restaurants must clean twice.
Electrical fires can be started from unsafe or poorly constructed wiring or other electrical components projecting heat to flammable materials. Short-circuiting is also a concern here, where too much equipment is plugged in beyond the electrical capacity for the building. Wiring should be routinely checked by an electrician to protect against these risks.
Gas leaks are known for being the cause of the most devastating levels of restaurant fires. This happens when equipment can no longer support the gas flow adequately, leaving flammable gas in the air. These leaks can usually be detected by smell, and are an exigent matter to deal with.
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