Safe use of microwaves
The National Fire Protection Agency offers these microwave oven safety tips:
- Read the manufacturer's instructions before using a microwave oven.
- Plug the oven directly into an outlet. Never use an extension cord because it could overload the circuit and cause a fire.
- Use only microwave-safe cookware (containers or dishes).
- Open microwaved food slowly, away from your face. Hot steam escaping from a container or the food itself can cause burns.
- Never use aluminum foil or metal objects in a microwave oven.
- If you have a fire in your microwave, turn it off immediately and keep the door closed. Never open the door until the fire is completely out. Have the oven checked and/or serviced before being used again.
Lawrence firefighters have grown accustomed to responding to microwave oven fires.
“We get a lot of burnt popcorn, especially up on campus,” said Lawrence Douglas County Fire Medical Lt. Scott Seratte. “They just punch the button, and then they walk off.”
Seratte said it’s relatively common for dorms and other residential buildings to become smelly and be evacuated. These fires may seem minor in the grand scheme of things, but he said they can leave the rest of the city at risk.
“If you’re running a call for popcorn … you’re pulling a lot of resources from the city that might not be available for someone who’s really having an emergency,” said Seratte, public education specialist.
On Monday morning, firefighters battled a more extensive microwave-related fire at a Lawrence apartment complex near KU. Overheated food in a microwave caused at least $10,000 in fire damage, investigators said.
The fire was caused, in part, by people possibly impaired by alcohol or drugs, a fire report said.
“If you’re inebriated, you shouldn’t be using (a microwave),” Seratte said. “That’s when the wrong time gets punched in.”
Drunken or not, Seratte said many people become inappropriately complacent when it comes to using microwaves, because of their simplicity and convenience.
“A microwave oven is just like a pan or a stove; you’ve just got to pay attention,” he said.
While larger fires aren’t commonly started by microwaves, Seratte said Monday’s fire is a prime example of how flames and heat can get out of microwave vents, if enough food’s left inside — and then spread to flammables, such as cabinets or dish towels.