Lake Oswego officials say kitchen fires are the leading cause of fires over the last two years here. This week, in honor of National Fire Prevention Week, they're raising awareness about the problem.

In the last two years, nine kitchen fires resulted in calls to the fire department, resulting in approximately $300,000 in losses to local homes. Since 2002, calls for fires have represented 14.5 percent of all building fires in Lake Oswego.

Statewide, kitchen fires are the leading cause of residential fires. Between 2001 and 2005, cooking-related fires caused more than 144 injuries and over $9 million in property losses in Oregon. Clackamas County accounted for 145 of 1,611 fires, resulting in 11 injuries.

Gert Zoutendijk, deputy fire marshal for Lake Oswego Fire, said the fires have not been the city's major loss fires but continue to be a problem.

'A lot of fires that we see are people leaving their stoves unattended,' he said.

Two years ago, Zoutendijk said, one local residence lost much of its first floor after the homeowner there left a pan of oil on the stove to go collect her laundry.

'This lady's friend called and she started chatting,' he said.

By the time the fire alarm sounded, 'the kitchen was fully involved with fire,' said Zoutendijk.

In a recent incident, he said one apartment resident caused a kitchen fire by cooking a pan dry.

'I'd say probably another two minutes and it would have been a real working fire in an apartment complex,' he said.

Offering tips to avoid kitchen fires, Zoutendijk recommended the following:

n Keep a close eye on what you're cooking, never leave food unattended;

n Keep your cooking area clean, including stovetop, oven and exhaust fan;

n Keep dishtowels and potholders away from the burners on the stove;

n Watch your sleeves while cooking. Loose sleeves can melt or ignite over a hot stove or catch on the handles of pots and pans;

n Cooking oil can ignite quickly. Heat oil slowly and watch it closely;

n Keep a fire extinguisher in your kitchen within easy reach. Know how to use it.

If a fire occurs, Zoutendijk said, 'The easiest and least volatile way to end a fire is putting a lid on it,' then turn off the stove and let the pan cool. Never put water on a grease fire or attempt to carry a burning pan, both can spread the fire and increase the chance of getting burned.

Zoutendijk also recommends turning pot handles in, to keep young children from tipping hot pans. The number one cause of burns to children under age four in the United States is hot liquids. Zoutendijk said Lake Oswego children have been burned twice this year in similar incidents.

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