Kitchen fires are tricky because they can often be either protein fires, which leave very damaging smoke residue, or electrical fires, which pose a risk of electrical shock as well as the hazard of fire and smoke damage. So what can you do if there's a kitchen fire and your fire extinguisher is malfunctioning or inaccessible for some reason? If it's a large fire, simply leave the area as quickly as possible and call 911. However, you may be able to stop a very small fire before it gets to that point, even without an extinguisher, and minimize the damage to your home. Here are three ways to do that.
1. Smother it with something solid
Sometimes a kitchen fire will start in a pot or pan that's been left unattended for too long. If you arrive just in time to see this type of fire start, you can try to smother the fire by simply enclosing it--covering the pan with a close-fitting lid. (Be careful not to burn yourself, as the lid will very quickly get hot.) The fire will burn up all the oxygen in the pan and then, if it can't pull in more air fast enough, will start to burn itself out. Don't try to put the fire out with water.
2. Turn off electricity
If it's an electrical fire, it's even more important to not use water on it. That's because water conducts electricity, so in addition to being ineffective, this could actually allow the exposed electricity to electrocute you as well. Stay safe and be sure you know what type of fire you're dealing with before you try to put it out. (This is why your chances are best if you actually saw how the fire got started.) In the case of an electrical fire, you need to switch off the electricity, which you can do either at the circuit box or, if the fire originated at an appliance and you can safely reach the cord, by simply unplugging the appliance. Don't touch the cord if it seems compromised in any way, however. (For example, if it's smoking or appears melted or if it's close enough to the fire that it could be affected, stay safe and don't touch it.) If you're unsure which circuit feeds the area in question, you can switch off the electricity for the whole house by flipping the main breaker. The main breaker is likely to be the largest and is usually towards the top of the circuit board (hopefully it will also be labeled). After switching off the electricity, you can fight the fire by smothering it as long as it's still very small. Otherwise, simply call 911.
3. Pour baking soda on it
Some people advise using flour to smother a fire. However, this is hazardous because flour is actually flammable (in fact, flour dust in the air can actually produce quite a big explosion, but don't tell your science-mad middle-school kids that). Instead, use baking soda. Baking soda can be used on both electrical fires and grease fires, both common in kitchen situations. A small box of baking soda may not be enough, depending on the size of the fire, but you can easily find large bags or boxes of baking soda in the cleaning aisle (near the laundry detergent) in your local supermarket. Baking soda is great for cleaning as well, so it's' definitely worth the few dollars needed to invest in this fire-fighting substance. You can also use salt, if you have a large enough amount, for a grease fire.
These three tips can help you survive a small kitchen fire with a minimum of collateral damage. If you do suffer damage, call a home disaster restoration company for advice and repairs.