Watch what you heat – Cooking blunders put Brits at fire risk

26 August 2016

350 years after the Great Fire of London, more than 1 million Brits have had to call 999 due to cooking fires[i]


The Great Fire of London of 1666 started with a simple mistake in a baker’s kitchen.  When an oven fire was forgotten at the end of the night, a fire spread throughout London over four days, destroying more than 13,000 homes.[ii]

Now, 350 years later to the day, new research from charity Electrical Safety First shows that people still may not be sure what to do in the case of a kitchen fire. In fact, more than one million Brits have had a cooking fire for which they’ve had to call 999. [iii]

Like that fateful fire of 1666, many kitchen fires now start due to human error – including chip pan fires getting out of control, using a microwave incorrectly or a hob or oven left on. In fact, cooking appliances cause 50 per cent of accidental dwelling fires in England.[iv]

More than a third (36%) of Brits admitted to being distracted by their phone, another person or TV while cooking. An estimated 2.5 million people (5.2% of the population) have fallen asleep while food has been left cooking in the oven. [v]  Almost one third (31%) of Brits admitted to leaving a hob or oven switched on after use. And a worrying one in six people in Britain confessed that they have cooked when drunk, including nearly one quarter (24%) of 25-34 year olds.

The research also showed that people lacked knowledge on what do to in the event of a kitchen fire. For example, almost one third (30.8%) said that they thought it was safe to extinguish a chip pan fire with water. One in twelve (8.8%) said that they would throw water on a frying pan if it caught fire.  

Emma Apter, Head of Communications at Electrical Safety First:

“Our research shows that many people are making easily avoidable mistakes when they are cooking that could cause significant damage or injury. It’s also worrying that many people don’t know what to do if a fire occurs in the kitchen. With over half of all accidental house fires starting in the kitchen[vi], we are urging everybody to stay safe and avoid cooking fires.”

Mat Riley, London Fire Brigade Firefighter and Former Great British Bake Off Contestant:

“As a baker I love to create tasty, crowd-pleasing food, but as a fire-fighter I know too well the risks of being distracted while cooking. My advice is to watch what you heat - focus on what you’re cooking or baking. Keep your kitchen safe and never leave cooking unattended.”

Electrical Safety First has produced some short videos to show the risks associated with cooking. Mat Riley has also created his own recipe to commemorate the Great Fire of London which he has prepared in a video that also includes his own electrical safety tips for bakers.

You can find out more about cooking safety at


For more information please contact:

Muireann Kirby T: 020 3463 5105 E:

Christina Copp T: 020 3463 5129 E:

Editors’ Notes

  • Electrical Safety First is a UK Charity dedicated to reducing and preventing damage, injuries and death caused by electricity. More information can be found at
  • All research results unless otherwise stated are from Censuswide. Total sample size was 2,002 UK adults. Fieldwork took place from 10th to 15th August 2016. Surveys were conducted across the United Kingdom and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults.

Electrical Safety First’s Top Tips for Safety in the Kitchen:

  1. Stay alert in the kitchen and watch what you heat. Use your common sense if you need to leave the kitchen and don’t get too distracted while you cook.
  2. Keep your kitchen safe, keep oven mitts or flammable materials away from the hob, keep cooking appliances clean and keep the vents of your microwave clear so it doesn’t overheat.
  3. If you have a cooking fire, close the door; leave the room and call 999. Never throw water on hot oil as it can create a fireball. Similarly, never use water on any electrical fire.

Five Common Kitchen Blunders

Blunder Advice
  1. Leaving cooking unattended: Over half (55%) of people thought it was safe to leave cooking on the hob unattended. Over one third (36%) admitted to being distracted while cooking.
Always stay alert when cooking and never leave a hob completely unattended. If you are nipping out of the kitchen while something is in the oven, be fully aware of timing and stay nearby.  Unattended cooking is a major cause of cooking fires in the UK.
  1. Leaving the hob or oven on after use: Almost one third of people admitted to leaving their hob or oven on after use.
Always switch the oven or hob off immediately after you’ve finished using it.
  1. Storing tea towels on a microwave: A startling two thirds (66%) of people think that this practice is safe.
Don’t ever store anything on top of a microwave. This is where the microwave’s vents are, which ensure that a microwave doesn’t overheat. If these vents are blocked, or even dirty or dusty, a microwave fire is much more likely to escape and spread.
  1. Fighting a chip pan with water: Almost one third (31%) thought it would be safe to extinguish a chip pan with water.
Never throw water on chip pan fires as this can create a fireball. Leave the room, close the door, shout a warning to others and call 999.
  1. Cooking when drunk: One in six (16%) of all BritBrits have cooked when they were drunk, including nearly a quarter (24%) of all 16-25 year olds.
Never cook if you are tired, have been drinking alcohol or taking medication that might make you drowsy. You are more at risk of leaving ovens and hobs unattended as well as suffering burns. 


[i] Censuswide, 1,215,5999 Brits (based on population of 52,852,169 according to ONS)

[ii] National Archives, Great Fire of London: How London changed, available at:

[iii] Censuswide, 1,215,5999 Brits (based on population of 52,852,169 according to ONS)

[iv] Home Office Fire statistics: England April 2014 to March 2015

[v] Censuswide, 2,642,608 Brits (based on population of 52,852,169 according to ONS)

[vi] Home Office Fire statistics: England April 2014 to March 2015