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Stove fire provides costly lesson

March 04, 2001

Stove fire provides costly lesson



By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI / Staff Writer


Felicia Benear and her fianc Bob Scholl want others to learn from their mistakes.

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Last month, an unattended grease fire in their Fulton Street home caused $12,000 in damages to the kitchen and living room.

The fire was a first for the couple, "and we won't have any others. We will stay at the stove until the meal is complete," said Benear, as she surveyed the kitchen days after the blaze.

Temperatures from the blaze reached 800 degrees and blaze melted the knobs of the stove and part of the refrigerator. The overhead cabinets and paneling were burned and grease and soot covered the floor and walls. The formerly white ceiling was completely blackened.

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It was around 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 22, when Scholl asked Benear to cook him a late dinner of a cheese steak and french fries, she said.

As Benear started cooking the meat, she turned on a pan of grease to heat for the potatoes. At that point she realized she was out of cheese but knew there was more in a basement freezer.

Thinking she was being cautious, Benear turned off the burner where the meat cooking but left the grease on as she had on past occasions.

"I didn't think I'd be gone that long," she said.

She went downstairs and noticed Scholl and other family members were putting together a fish tank incorrectly.

Benear said she stopped to help, and after few minutes the smoke detector in the living room went off.

Her daughter ran upstairs to see what happening and she began yelling that there was a fire, she said.

"She was screaming at the top of her lungs," said Benear.

In the cabinet above the stove was a kitchen fire extinguisher they were unable to reach because of the flames.

On the refrigerator across from the stove was a cooking fire safety brochure from the Hagerstown Fire Department.

As Benear, Scholl and family friend Gene Diehl, 27, tried to throw water on the flames, their children fled the home.

With the fire spreading rapidly, Scholl ran to a bedroom to get a second fire extinguisher and sprayed foam at the stove until the fire was out.

Just then, Hagerstown firefighters arrived and made sure the fire was out for good and everyone was safe.

Like many fire victims, Benear, 36, and Scholl, 38, said they never thought it would happen to them.

Benear and Scholl say they believe in fire safety. Their children have attended Children's Village fire safety school, their home is equipped with smoke detectors and they made family visits to fire department open houses.

"We thought we were OK," said Scholl.

Cooking fires are the most common of all fires that occur in Hagerstown, said Mike Weller, Hagerstown Fire Department Fire Safety Educator.

For the past five years there has been about an average of 43 cooking fires in the city each year, said Weller.

Weller said 2001 looks as though it is headed in the same direction despite an aggressive fire-safety public awareness program which includes periodic residential visits by firefighters.

"It's frustrating for us," he said

Grease fires are so dangerous because the heat becomes intense quickly, he said.

When the grease begins to boil, it splatters and catches on fire when it hits the burner, he said.

Scholl was lucky because he acted quickly and was able to put out the blaze himself but most people shouldn't even try, he said.

"The first thing you should do is evacuate and call us. If you do try to extinguish it, do it properly (with a fire extinguisher) and do it within 30 seconds," said Weller.

If you can't, "declare it out of control, "and call for help he said. Never try to carry a burning pot outside, he said.

Ever since their fire, Benear and Scholl have become fire safety zealots, they said.

"We think it's important that other people know, that fire spreads so fast people can die," said Benear.

"We tell everyone we see, make a fire evacuation plan, get smoke detectors and never, never leave the stove when you are cooking," said Scholl.

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