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Letter: Hotplate Nearly Burned Down Our Home

A CrownHeighs.info reader sent us the following letter, warning their fellow community members to exercise extreme caution after their home was nearly burned down by a Shabbos hotplate that caught fire:

by Anonymous

On yom tov, we use hot plates in the kitchen to heat the food.  (On Shabbos, my wife wraps food in towels and places it in the hot oven, turned off, to keep the food hot.  We eat the meal of Shabbos day in shul at the Kiddush, and do not need hot food Shabbos afternoon at home.)

Last summer, a friend brought us an artistic cover from Israel that is used to cover the food on the hot plate.  It is like a blanket.  On Shavuos night, sitting at the dining room table, we smelled something burning.  Running to the kitchen, my wife noticed that the hot plate cover was smoldering, having caught fire from the surface of the hot plate.

We quickly carried the blanket outside to the porch, and opened the windows to air out the kitchen.  Fortunately, we caught it before there was much smoke in the kitchen.  With the immediate urgency gone, I fetched our fire extinguisher from the closet, and sprayed the hot plate cover.  Knowing that it is difficult to fully extinguish this material, we waited, and sure enough, the fire flared up.

With the fire extinguisher now empty, I called the fire department, and asked them to come.  I explained that we were safe, and the burning object was outside, but I could not fully extinguish the flame.  (I had another objective: I wanted to impress on my children the importance of not hesitating to call emergency services on Yom Tov when there is even a small chance of danger.  This is not a halachic ruling, and I recommend that people check with their rov for guidelines on the appropriate procedure.)

The police arrived first, and the policeman used my garden hose (duh!) to spray the cover for several minutes until he was sure the fire was out.  (As far as Yom Tov, it was better for him to put out the fire than one of us.)  One fireman came with a truck who made sure that everything was under control and then walked through the house to check that the level of smoke was safe.

I have never used the fire extinguisher before, but I am sure glad I had bought one many years ago.  We also have smoke alarms hooked up through our burglar alarm, and I added a horn near the bedrooms a few years ago.  If the alarm goes off, the alarm company will try our house phone first, then call a list of numbers we provided them, if we are not home.

We are most grateful to Hashem that we are safe.

I am sharing this so people know that if they use a cover for their hot plate, it may not be safe.  Please review your kitchen procedures for weekdays, Shabbos, and Yom Tov, to make sure everything is done safely.  If you are not sure, you can call your fire department and ask.  They may even offer to stop at your house to check your arrangements firsthand.

Test your smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms every rosh Chodesh.  If you work at a school, please do your part to ensure that the alarms in the buildings are tested frequently.  (Who is responsible for the smoke alarms in the dorms?)

It is important to be prepared for emergencies, because you never know when something might happen.  And if something does happen, it is easy to panic and not think straight.  It is impossible to eliminate or to prepare for every situation.  But the better you plan, and the more systems you have in place, the better your chances are of getting through the event safely.

22 Comments

  • 2. pushut a sakanah for the those who go fly a kite wrote:

    You explained you were safe, so you should call police without consulting Halacha.

    Judge with you eyes not with your personal agenda.

    Either your for Halacha or your not.

  • 3. thank g- everything turn out well wrote:

    please check your mezuzahs,make sure they are on the right doorsand right place, cannot stress this more and tefillin too, and ask the rebbe what they can do to make up for the fire

  • 4. Actually.... wrote:

    Wait a sec, if you wrap the thing in blankets….

    Um… and considering that theres probably others out there like you in that category of gadget shoppers…

    ALWAYS call first –

    NEVER play with matches

    Without adult supervision

    Or the husband…

  • 6. wrong title wrote:

    It’s a bit misleading to say “hotplate caused the fire”
    It was the hotplate cover

  • 8. Thank you wrote:

    Thank you for sharing this, safety is #1!
    I think a website like this can have a regular safety column- these are things we don’t always realize.

  • 9. A reader wrote:

    How can someone even think of using a hotplate, considering what happened to the Sasoon family, r”l?

  • 12. DeClasse' Intellectual wrote:

    First, there was an article in CrownhHeights info past about a possible new type of hot plate that was kosher and took into account the needs of Shabbos and y9om-Tov Perhaps one of the readers can cite said article
    second, the staandard hot plate is not made for Shabbos and yom-tov use so beware of possible hazards and we cannot be sure if the hot plate itself did not contribute to the fire

  • 13. chaim36 wrote:

    All of the above have MISSED an important detail. Do NOT use any hotplate or urn that is NOT UL approved. Many frum stores ARE selling NON approved electic items. Be safe not sorry.

  • 14. Andrea Schonberger wrote:

    People have to be very careful of small appliances or anything connected with them. When I lived in military housing at Fort Lewis, WA a faulty toaster burned down an occupant’s kitchen. Many years ago a damaged outlet caused a hair dryer to catch fire while I was using it. I’m paranoid to the point that I unplug small appliances after using them.

  • 15. okay okay.... wrote:

    I get the sense this is not just one of those yada yada fire safety preachings, but this may have actually been a real close call and a certain family had been shaken.

    In that case, the real fear is what matters and by calling for help was certainly warranted by Halacha. I know this from the case of a cosmetic-only laceration when the physician found no halachic grounds to seek a plastic surgeon on Yom Tov, but a rav here in CH nevertheless found it permissable. Later asked why, he said, “didn’t you hear the fear in his voice? From the perspective of his shoes, he was absolutely in a matzev sakana”

  • 16. Israeli balabusteh wrote:

    I have a plata cover but mine is made of flameproof materials. however…. it has torn (which makes it open to burning) & I once had it on the blech, which was a mistake because the decorative edging caught alight from the flame.

    I am sorry this happened to you, but I for one am grateful for the reminder to order a new one.

    • 17. oy vay. wrote:

      I think I’ve failed to grasp the urgency of the matzev here.

      Someone better put a stop to these unsupervised chineese gadget goods ported to, and jeapardizing the safety of, our unassuming consumers just so that a careless heimishe ruv could get richer. This is critical. It’s time for the charaydisher black market to get out the shaddows, before someone gets hurt c”v.

  • 18. Choshiver Heimisher Soycher wrote:

    Why i should call UL office. if someone have problem use better exstension cord. Please make sure to not put blankit.

    it’s your responsibility.

    If you don’t like don’t buy.

  • 19. Anon wrote:

    He did not mention if he turned off the electricity (before spraying water on it.)

    • 20. Not making any sense. wrote:

      There was no electricity! He wrapped the pot in a highly flamable blanket!
      Then he threw the blanket on to the porch – he should have thrown in into the middle of the street where out wouldn’t have the possibility to spread – before he hosed it down.
      And all his smoke alarms and burgler alarms, and horn didn’t connect to his monitoring service which should have called 911, but didn’t.
      Then when there was no danger, he called 911 on yom tov, because he thinks that’s better than finishing the extinguishing he started.
      Must have had too many lchayims at the kiddush. Gevalt

  • 21. TIMER wrote:

    Using electric appliances to cook for the first time in decades, I called a Rav and not wanting to have them on for 3 days running, asked if I could put them on a timer and use the appliances for Yom Tov (timer would not shut off until after the time I took out the chulnt for Shabbos, then stay off until night). I got an affirmative reply. Anyone interested in minimizing time the items are on in the interests of safety should consider asking their Rav come the Yomim Neroim. oh, and CHECK FOR UL FOR SURE BEFORE YOU BUY!!!!

    • 22. Please elaborate. wrote:

      Which rav? Was this a general horaah, or just for you? And agree you leaving off critical details?

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