Earlier this week I inadvertently created a plume of green toxic smoke in my kitchen. As fun and interesting as that sounds, it’s not actually the topic of this post. It did, however, lead someone to remind me about the time I left carrots cooking on the stove while I ran some errands. I realized that we, understandably, spend a lot of time talking about the number-one killer of children (car accidents), so why not also take a minute to talk about the number-one cause of residential fires (unattended cooking)?

Now of course I didn’t intend to leave my carrots on the stove. I had planned on running to the craft store and then out to dinner, so I put some carrots on the stove to boil for my one-year-old to chomp on at the restaurant. I set the timer and went to do some other things.

The kids wound up being ready to go much sooner than I expected, so I grabbed my purse, got the kids in the car, and drove 15 minutes away. I got what I needed at the craft store then headed to the restaurant next door. We sat down, ordered drinks, and I reached into my purse to pull out the carrots only to realize…

OMG! O.M.G. The carrots weren’t there! They were still on the stove, and had been for at least 45 minutes.

I pulled out my cell phone to call my husband.

At this point I should mention that my husband is a fireman, which is both fortunate and unfortunate in this situation: unfortunate because it’s really ironic when a firefighter’s house burns down, but fortunate because this day, my husband happened to be working at the station just a couple minutes from our house.

Maybe it was because of my panic, but his “Hello…?” sounded a bit too sarcastic for me. I thought for sure he was standing in front of our fully engulfed house, waiting for me to explain what I had done. I meekly asked where he was and breathed a sigh of relief when he said he was at the station. That meant our house wasn’t ablaze–or at least not enough that anyone had reported it.

I told him what I had done, and he said he’d swing by the house to check on it. I tried to relax, but couldn’t. How incredibly stupid could I be? How could someone who cares so much about safety leave something cooking on the stove like that?

He called back a while later to report that the house was still standing. In fact, there wasn’t any damage at all (other than a gross, acrid odor). My covered pan had created the perfect crematory for the helpless little carrots.

I was lucky that nothing terrible happened (my husband even managed to salvage the pan), but we can learn two lessons from this:

1) Don’t leave the house when you have things cooking.

2) Even the most safety-conscious among us can make stupid mistakes.

And what can we learn specifically about preventing unattended cooking fires? The National Fire Protection Association has some tips:

  • Don’t cook while tired or intoxicated.
  • Stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling, or broiling, and turn off the heat if you leave the kitchen even for a short period of time.
  • If you’re simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, set a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
  • Keep anything that can catch fire away from your stovetop.

Next time I’m throwing some food together while we’re on our way out the door, maybe I’ll put the container I plan on using next to my purse as a reminder. I’ll also try not to cook unless my husband is on duty nearby.