As Britain’s seaside resorts finally baked in some summer sunshine this week, one of the last remaining historic seaside piers went up in flames. Furthermore, the devastating fire at Weston-super-Mare’s recently restored pier may have been caused by our love of seaside fish and chips, as the fire is thought to have started in an area of the pier’s kitchens housing deep fat fryers.
The End of the Pier Show
The fire at Weston’s 104-year-old pier in North Somerset took hold quickly, reducing the wooden pavilion to a shell of twisted metal, and creating a smoke plume that could be seen as far away as Cardiff and North Devon. The pier had only reopened in April 2008 after an extensive £1million refit by the new owners, and within 2 hours of the fire starting at 7am, most of the pier’s buildings had been reduced to ash, just three months later.
By the time the 80 or so firefighters from the Avon Fire and Rescue Service arrived, the fire had taken such a hold that the officers were contending with “intense radiated heat.” Initially, the fire crews were unable to get closer than 60 metres of the blaze.
How Many More?
Weston-super-Mare’s holiday landmark is the third British pier to catch fire in five years; the derelict West Pier in Brighton burned down in 2003, and Southend pier was partially burned in a fire in 2005.
And if it really was down to a fat frying fire, which at time of writing has yet to be confirmed, how could it have been prevented?
Fires and Fat Fryers
Fat fryers are, potentially, a fire waiting to happen. The average fat fryer contains up to 75 litres of oil, heated to approximately 180 degrees C, the optimum temperature for crispy fish batter and golden yet fluffy chips! However, the fat itself burns at 340 degrees, and normal fire extinguishers are not only ineffectual but potentially dangerous if used on a fat fryer fire.
Never Mix Water and Oil
As any cook will tell you, if you drop any liquid or solid into hot oil, it will spit and fly out of the pan. So you need a wet chemical fire extinguisher which can extinguish fat or oil fires in a novel and innovative fashion that does not cause the oil to splash dangerously.
The secret behind the effectiveness of any wet chemical fire extinguisher is – soap! Wet chemical extinguishers contain potassium acetate, plus additional potassium citrate or potassium bicarbonate. When these ingredients make contact with oil, saponification occurs, creating a thick soapy foam that smothers the fire, stops the fire restarting, and cools the fat or oil beneath.
Saponification: Just Add…
The potassium salts in the fire extinguisher form a reaction, converting vegetable oils and fats into hydrolized acid and alcohol. (Yes, that’s what your average bar of soap is made from, plus some colouring and perfume.) The chemical process of saponification is endothermic, meaning it draws heat rather than gives it off, so the reaction also cools the hot oil as the soapy foam is created.
Fat Fryer Fires: Training is Key
Wet chemical extinguishers are used in a different manner than normal extinguishers, so proper training for anyone and everyone working in a commercial kitchen is crucial. A wet chemical extinguisher is equipped with a long lance, allowing the operator to stand well back and apply the agent gently to the surface of the burning oil. The lance is also non-conductive, so accidental splashes onto the electrics of the fat fryer will not give the fire extinguisher operator an unwelcome shock.
Fat Fryer Extinguisher from Fire Protection Online
Fire Protection Online stock a commercial-sized 6 litre wet chemical extinguisher, with its distinctive lance and bright yellow identification label, they are an essential part of the equipment in any commercial kitchen. Fire Protection Online also offer great deals on other essential fire fighting equipment for commercial kitchens, including CO2 fire extinguishers for electrical equipment, fire blankets for pan fires and all required fire safety signs.
However, as with all fires, if in doubt, get out, stay out and call the Fire Brigade. Piers can be rebuilt, human beings cannot.