Reading the user directions on your new fire extinguisher while facing a real fire isn't the best idea.

"When my children told me they wanted to deep-fry a turkey on their visit for Thanksgiving, I went out and bought a fire extinguisher," said Cheri Sutton, a civilian Department of Defense employee for the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center, Fort Rucker, Ala.

Little did she know how important it would be, but not because of a deep-fried turkey.

"I heard a smoke-detector beeping about midnight one night, and thought the battery in it was low," she explained. "It annoyed me so I got up to turn it off."

That's when things got serious.

"As I neared the kitchen, I noticed a light. I knew I hadn't left one on, and then I saw the fire on top of the stove," said the Dothan, Ala., resident. "The smoke detector wasn't beeping like it does when the battery is low, it was beeping non-stop, which added to the overall stress of the situation."

The foot-high flames were centered on one eye of the stove, so Sutton reached for baking soda in the cabinet, a common household item recommended to quell a fire, but the box was half empty.

"Then I remembered that salt could be used for a fire, and my salt box was there near the stove, but it was empty and I had sat it out as a reminder to buy some more," she said.

Her next thought was to use water, but she remembered water couldn't be used on a grease fire, which she thought could be the cause of the fire on the burning stove.

It was then she remembered her newly purchased fire extinguisher.

"When I got the fire extinguisher and walked to the fire, I pulled it out of the box and realized I had never read the instructions on how to use it or what type of fires it was designed to fight," Sutton said. "So, I stood there in front of the fire trying to read the instructions and just went ahead and used it."

Luckily for her, it put out the fire.

Her investigation of the fire scene revealed the plastic handle on a spatula resting in a pan above the stove eye had melted and caught fire when the eye was turned on to the 'high' setting.

How could that happen?

"My cat, Fella, loves to walk on the countertop and stovetop when no one is around, and I think he accidentally rubbed up against the control knob and turned it on," she decided.

Fella, who tips the scales at 18 pounds, is the presumed culprit in the incident, but so far hasn't confessed.

"I'm getting a new stove with vertical controls in the rear to help prevent this from happening again, and my advice to everyone is to read the instructions on your fire extinguisher before you need it for a real fire," Sutton explained.

According to Michael Wood, manager, Safety and Occupational Health, Ground Directorate, USACR/Safety Center, you should follow these tips when it comes to home fire extinguishers:

• There are different types of portable fire extinguishers for different types of fires, but the best extinguisher to buy for the home is a multi-purpose dry chemical unit.

• Read the directions, which come with the fire extinguisher.

• Make sure you place the fire extinguisher where it can easily be seen and retrieved.

• Remember, fire extinguishers work best on small fires, such as a burning wastebasket or a small grease fire.

For more information on fire protection, you can log on to the U.S. Fire Administration at


Cheri Sutton, a civilian Department of Defense employee at Fort Rucker, Ala., checks the instructions on a fire extinguisher. She found out the hard way it's a good thing to do before you really need one. (Photo by Art Powell)