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Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.

About the Chip Pan Fire Simulation

By December 26, 2012

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Chip Pan Fire Simulation (Ben Mills)Have you ever experienced a chip pan fire or other kitchen grease fire? This photograph actually is a simulated chip pan fire, produced as a demonstration. I have to wonder if the simulation was intended to be that spectacular. Also, I bet that fire was pretty intriguing to people passing by the lab outdoors.

Chip pan fires reportedly are the most common cause of house fires in the UK. A chip pan is a deep metal pan filled with oil used to fry chips (french fries). A fire can start if the oil gets too hot and ignites. Overfilling the pan or adding wet chips can cause oil to overflow the pan and catch fire, too. If you add water or wet chips to the pan, the water sinks to the bottom of the pan. The bottom of the pan is hot, so the water vaporizes. The water vapor expands, forcing the oil out of the pan (which can splash you with hot oil even if it doesn't cause a fire).

Back to that photograph... If you feel like setting your own lab on fire by trying the simulation, here's how to set it up. You fill a metal beaker with wax, heat it over a Bunsen burner until it catches fire, then add a little water to the beaker (presumably from a distance). This also goes to show, dramatically, why you don't want to try to put out a grease fire with water.

State of Matter of Fire | Less-Dangerous Fire Projects


April 28, 2008 at 12:07 pm
(1) Steve says:

Nice photo! Now all we need is a video for the students. Anyone know where to find one?

April 28, 2008 at 3:15 pm
(2) chemistry says:

You might try contacting the photographer of that image, Ben Mills. The Wikipedia entry on chip pans cites several demonstrations and pictorials, though I didn’t see any in video format.

May 2, 2008 at 3:08 pm
(3) kbjflb says:

wow!!!!!!!!!!!!! nice explosing!!!

May 31, 2008 at 12:49 pm
(4) tony clark says:

I have several photos and videos of this demo, I can also supply you with a unit for education purposes

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