View Royal fire Lieut. Heath Bevan created an explosive fireball worthy of a Hollywood movie, it was an effective display of why of oil, heat and water don’t mix.
A rash of household grease and oil fires over the past few years has spurred View Royal Fire Rescue to remind the public that flaming oil doused with water can have disastrous results.
“It’s a frustration for fire departments because this actually a simple type of fire to put out if you have the proper education,” said Lieut. Rob Marshall. “But if you panic during the situation and pour water onto (the fire) it creates quite an explosive situation.”
During a media demonstration on Thursday on an outdoor demonstration stove top, Bevan used half a bottle of canola oil in a pot, fired up the stove burner and waited 10 minutes.
At 250 C, the oil started smoking and at 400 C flames danced on the surface of the liquid. In full turnout gear, Bevan poured on a cup of tap water, and a roiling fireball of boiling oil burst from the makeshift stove.
“The water molecules expand 1,700 times itself. When you throw one cup of water into the grease, that turns into 1,700 cups of steam,” Marshall said. “So it literally explodes on the inside and throws the flaming grease up into the air.”
View Royal FD has seen about 12 grease fires in the past few years, including most recently on Jan. 22 in the upper suite of a Helmcken Road home.
The resident placed a pot of fiery oil into the sink, turned on the tap and witnessed a fireball shoot up the wall. The suite was charred enough to be uninhabitable, but the resident and her daughter were lucky to escape unharmed.
“The fire last week pushed it for us to get the message out that grease fires are easy to deal with if you deal with them properly,” Marshall said. “If you deal with them in the wrong way, it can be bad.”
If faced with a oil or grease fire, turn off the stove element or source of heat first, and cover the pan with a metal lid if possible.
Marshall recommends letting the pot cool for at least 30 minutes. Don’t move the pot or place it in the sink.
“At that point leave it alone. Don’t touch it for about half an hour. That oil in there is still above 400 C so a real extreme burn hazard.”