DEAR ABBY: I am very concerned about the letter signed "Wiser Now," regarding the use of fire extinguishers in the kitchen.
Just last week on our local television channel, the guest was a woman from the fire department. She stressed that one should not always use a fire extinguisher to put out a fire on one's kitchen stove. I had always thought the same as the lady who wrote to you. The fire department representative said that the force of the foam coming out of the nozzle can be so strong it simply blows the flames around the stove or curtains. She recommended using a lid -- or better yet, a cookie sheet -- to slide over the pan to smother the flames.
She also said never to use baking soda, because it can explode the flames. -- MRS. ORRIN T. WELLS, SAN MARCOS, CALIF.
DEAR MRS. WELLS: Julie Reynolds, director of public affairs for the National Fire Protection Association, confirmed that in the case of a pan fire, a fire extinguisher used too close to the pan could splatter the fire, spreading it further around the kitchen. The safer method is to smother the fire by carefully sliding a lid over the pan and then turning the burner off. Lifting the lid to see if the fire is out will allow oxygen to rekindle the flames. Also, it is very dangerous to attempt to carry a burning pan to the sink or outside. The flames could easily ignite clothing or other combustibles, causing dangerous burns and spreading the fire.
While baking soda may be used to extinguish flames, the National Fire Protection Association does not recommend it since it requires one to be near the flames. (In addition, if the wrong substance -- flour or baking powder -- is grabbed, it could create a larger and more dangerous blaze.)
For fires in other parts of the house, it is vital that you have the proper extinguisher for the type of fire you need to fight, and that you know how to operate it. If a fire is small and contained (such as fire in a wastebasket), using the proper fire extinguisher may be the best approach, but in some cases, it's wiser to leave the premises and call the fire department.