During the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, people across North Carolina are under stay-at-home orders and practicing social distancing. And for many of people, this means more time in the kitchen cooking meals.

Yet cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Since February, in the beginning months of the outbreak, the American Red Cross serving Eastern North Carolina responded to 209 home fires, affecting 250 families and 715 people. The Red Cross is helping by providing financial assistance for food, clothing, lodging, and other essentials. In addition, the Red Cross can provide health, mental health, and spiritual care to support recovery.

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires. Moreover, unattended cooking is the leading cause of cooking fires, and a Red Cross survey shows that roughly 70 percent of people have left the kitchen while cooking.

The good news is that kitchen fires can be prevented. The Red Cross and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina encourage families to follow these simple safety tips:

• Keep an eye on what you fry! Stay in the kitchen and never leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove.

• Clean the stove and the area around it before turning on the heat.

• Keep children and pets at least 3 feet away from the stove. Move items that can burn, such as dishtowels, bags and boxes, away from the stove, and avoid wearing loose clothing while cooking.

• Turn pot handles to the back of the stove to avoid spills.

• Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on. Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens and small appliances are turned off.

• When frying food, turn the burner off if you see smoke or if the grease starts to boil. Fires can start when the heat is too high. Carefully remove the pan from the burner.

• Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher to keep in your kitchen. Contact your local fire department to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.

IF A COOKING FIRE OCCURS

If a pan catches fire, don’t move it. Slide a pan lid or cookie sheet on top of the pan to put out the fire. Turn off the heat. Keep the lid on the pan until it is completely cooled. Never try to stop a grease or oil fire with water — it will fuel the fire.

If something catches fire in the oven, keep the door closed. Call 911 so firefighters can make sure the fire didn’t spread to the walls. If a fire occurs in the microwave, keep the door closed and unplug the microwave if you can. Don’t use it again until a repairman checks it.

If the kitchen catches fire, make sure everyone gets out and meets at your household’s designated meeting spot. Once outside, call 911 and stay out. Never go back inside a burning building.

GRILLING SAFETY

Now that spring has arrived, many people cook family meals on the backyard grill. Because grilling fires spark more than 10,000 home fires on average every year, follow these safety tips:

• Always supervise a barbecue grill when in use. Don’t add charcoal starter fluid when coals have already been ignited.

• Never grill indoors — not in your house, camper, tent or any enclosed area.

• Keep the grill out in the open, away from the house, deck, tree branches or anything that could catch fire.

• Use long-handled tools especially made for cooking on the grill.

TEST SMOKE ALARMS AND PRACTICE YOUR TWO-MINUTE DRILL

Working smoke alarms can cut the risk of dying in a home fire by half and having a home fire escape plan further increases the odds of survival. In fact, fire experts say that you have as little as two minutes to escape a burning home before it’s too late.

• Install smoke alarms on every level of your home and test them monthly. Place them inside and outside bedrooms and sleeping areas.

• Create and practice your home fire escape plan until everyone in your household can get out in two minutes or less. Include at least two ways to escape every room. Select a meeting spot at a safe distance away from your home, such as your neighbor’s home or landmark like a specific tree in your front yard, where everyone knows to meet.

FIND COVID-19 SAFETY UPDATES

Visit redcross.org/coronavirus for more information on COVID-19 safety.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina (Blue Cross NC) is a statewide Home Fire Campaign partner with the American Red Cross. In 2018, Blue Cross NC committed to support the installation of 36,000 smoke alarms in homes across North Carolina over three years and has been a critical partner in mission delivery to end home fire deaths.

About the American Red Cross:

The American Red Cross shelters, feeds and provides emotional support to victims of disasters; supplies about 40 percent of the nation's blood; teaches skills that save lives; provides international humanitarian aid; and supports military members and their families. The Red Cross is a not-for-profit organization that depends on volunteers and the generosity of the American public to perform its mission. For more information, please visit redcross.org/enc or cruzrojaamericana.org, or visit us on Twitter at @RedCrossENC.