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Q: Electric Stove Safety ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Electric Stove Safety
Category: Family and Home > Seniors
Asked by: telepath-ga
List Price: $25.00
Posted: 31 Jul 2002 14:31 PDT
Expires: 30 Aug 2002 14:31 PDT
Question ID: 47671
My 73-year-old mother likes to use the top of the electric stove like
a counter. She insists that it's perfectly safe to leave books lying
around on top of the burners, or spread newspaper over them, as long
as the burners are off and the power supply to the stove is switched

My mother is adamant that what she is doing is fine, but she has
agreed to try to remember not to do this if I will ask someone who
understands electricity, and if that person agrees that it is

If I'm wrong, and what my mother's doing is safe - well and good. If
I'm right, she needs to hear it from a credible source.
Subject: Re: Electric Stove Safety
Answered By: historybuff-ga on 31 Jul 2002 16:13 PDT
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Thank you for your question.  Under normal conditions, a stove
operating properly should not cause a fire.  Although every public
fire safety web site (cities, fire departments, power utilities)
clearly states that flammable objects of any kind, liquid and paper
need to be kept away from stoves, even electric stoves, I see you are
facing a slightly different dilemma.  You need to prove that if the
person operating the stove NEVER makes a mistake, the paper on the
stove is still dangerous.

Several situations could pose a danger.
Paper can slide down along the sides or behind the stove. The paper
could ignite, particularly because stoves areas generally have a lot
of grease around, which can get on the paper and add to it's fire
danger.  The dangerous situation arises when you turn on your stove,
not able to see the paper. Occasionally short circuits and wiring
problems do happen, sometimes inside appliances.  A spark during a
short circuit can ignite paper nearby.  What if the paper falls behind
the stove near the electric receptable?  What if the stove wiring
fails?  There is one case I found in a legal proceeding where an
electric stove exploded. The mention is far into the document so I
suggest a page search (Ctrl + F in Windows) for "stove" once you get
to the document.

Paper can spontaneously combust, rarely but it has been known to
happen.  Here is a story about a house fire started by spontaneous

The third dangerous scenario is when a power outage happens while
someone is cooking and the individual doesn't turn the burner off. 
Later, when the power comes back on, the burner heats up and ignites
anything flammable in the vicinity, not just directly on the burner. 
Unattended burners get very hot, as many of the sites warned.  Advice
from IPL, a power company gives advice on what to do during a power
outage. In case of a power outage..."Make sure your electric stove is
off. If a burner is on and goes unnoticed after the power is restored,
it could cause a fire."

Lastly, is your mother the only one in the house?  Are there children
who might play with the stove knobs and accidentally turn on the
unattended stove?

Here is a paragraph discussing stove safety for seniors, though
specifically for alzheimers patients, so not one I would recommend
showing your mom directly.  "... is common for them to turn on the
stove and then forget that they have done so. Other times, they may
plan to cook something, but they'll put empty pans on the burner.
These are serious fire hazards. And people who are left at home alone
or who get up at night are especially at risk. If you have an electric
stove, consider having a switch installed behind it that will allow
you to turn the stove on and off."

I found such a switch, that emits a warning sound if the stove is left
on when someone turns off the lights in the kitchen.  What a great

This web site is typical of what fire safety officials recommend for
stove safety:

Your question had asked for electrical background.  I had a year of
physics, one third of that focusing on electricity.  Since then I've
rewired a house during a remodel project, for which I had to learn
quite a bit about home electrical work.  Since then, over the last 15
years, I've done a variety of  home electrical repair and installation

I hope I've armed you with enough information to bring your mother
around to your viewpoint.



search terms:
"electric stove" "electrical fire"
"electric stove" combustion
"electric stove" safety
paper "spontaneous combustion"

Clarification of Answer by historybuff-ga on 31 Jul 2002 16:21 PDT
I might mention too, that if you would like more links on stove safety
from fire departments and the like, I'm glad to provide them.  I
didn't want to flood you with the same information repeated!

Request for Answer Clarification by telepath-ga on 01 Aug 2002 01:42 PDT
Thank you, historybuff, for such a thorough and considered answer. I
read it to my mother over the phone.

In answer to your offer, I would very much appreciate it if you could
post further links to stove-safety information.

Many thanks,


Clarification of Answer by historybuff-ga on 01 Aug 2002 08:22 PDT
Thank you for taking the time to provide a rating, and such a nice
comment.  Here are some fire safety sites that talk about stoves:

New York City Fire Department:

Hartford Insurance:

The Trumbal Volunteer Fire Department provides an account of a stove
fire. "He said a basket of clothes was placed on top of an unused
electric stove next to a washing machine in the basement and the stove
was turned on accidentally."

A chart of the percentage of fires that begin on stoves from Alberta
Municipal Affairs

The Red Cross says "Don't store items on the stove top; they could
catch fire" in their section titled "Cooking With Care"

From the Alexandria Fire Department we hear, "You should never put
anything on the stove you don't want to heat" under their "Kitchen
Fire Safety" section.

There you go!
telepath-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
historybuff has taken care to answer EXACTLY the question I asked, and
has given thorough and precise information in response. What more
could anyone want?

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