Kitchen and smoking-related fires causing thousands in damage

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WBAY) - As you sit down for dinner or maybe are about to cook it, firefighters are asking people to be more aware when you're in the kitchen, because they've been responding to more and more kitchen fires.

It sounds about as common sense as it gets to be careful, but the Green Bay Metro Fire Department is responding to an average of 1 or 2 kitchen fires every week this year.

The damage is evident in pictures from some of those 62 kitchen fires.

Firefighters say many are entirely preventable, having been left unattended when people were drinking too much alcohol, fell asleep or even left the house to go shopping.

Others are entirely accidental and simply got out of control quickly.

"Kids get in the kitchen when their parents are cooking vegetables and just have their back turned, even though they're in the kitchen. (They) had a rag or grabbed onto curtains and pushed something," explains Green Bay Metro Fire Lt. Shauna Walesh. "When we talk about prevention for cooking fires, the big thing is don't leave the kitchen if you have something on the stove top, even if you're leaving just for a second."

Not only are kitchen fires the most common kind of fire in the Green Bay area, they are nationwide, too.

The National Fire Protection Association says kitchen fires are also responsible for nearly half of all fire injuries.

Across the country, the association says the next most common kind of fire is heating, followed by electrical, then intentionally set fires and finally careless use of smoking materials.

But that is not the case in Green Bay.

Walesh says there's a big problem with cigarettes or smoking materials causing hundreds of thousands of dollars in fire damages.

Last summer, three big apartment fires in less than two weeks were caused by careless use of smoking materials.

"We had 37 people that were displaced, moved out of their homes because of it, and over $650,000 worth of damage, which is incredible and really sad, too, because those people lost their homes," says Walesh.

She says those kind of preventable fires, along with kitchen fires, account for a large number of the department's calls this year.

Why is smoking the fifth leading case of home fires nationwide, even behind arsons, but second in our area?

There might not be a direct answer, but Walesh is using this time during Fire Prevention Week to bring awareness to what can turn dangerous very quickly.

Both have a common factor when it comes to prevention.

"If you're consuming alcohol or sleepy or taking medications that make you drowsy, maybe not smoke," says Walesh.

The same goes for cooking.

"Maybe order takeout that night. Just little stuff like that to try to prevent a mishap."