One of the most common and dangerous disaster situations is a house fire, and that very situation might be made even worse depending on what sort of supplies you have stored in your pantry or elsewhere in your home.
Anything that will ignite easily and burn furiously can turn a small fire into an out-of-control blaze in no time, so understanding fire risk factors and remediation is equally important.
Look at that most ubiquitous kitchen staple, olive oil. Is olive oil flammable?
No, olive oil is not flammable as it doesn’t ignite readily under most circumstances with a flashpoint between 350°F and 435°F. However, olive oil can burn eventually and make any existing fire significantly worse if it does ignite.
I know that for most of us, life in the kitchen is just not possible without olive oil and accordingly it is something that you can expect to find at stockpiled in almost any preppers pantry or store room.
You don’t need to be anxious if you have a large quantity of olive oil stored, but you do need to understand how to cook with it safely and how it might make things worse in the event of a house fire.
Keep reading and I’ll tell you everything you need to know below.
Is Olive Oil Combustible?
Yes, according to OSHA. Since olive oil has a flashpoint above the criteria for a flammable liquid (which is 199.4 °F or 93 °C), it is considered combustible.
Does Olive Oil Ignite at Any Temperature?
Olive oil, like many other cooking oils, has the potential to ignite if exposed to high enough temperatures. The specific temperature at which it can ignite typically falls between 350 °F and 435 °F.
This range varies depending on the grade of the oil and its blend. Extra virgin olive oil, for example, has a lower ignition point.
On the other hand, regular olive oil, which sometimes undergoes chemical processing, can withstand higher temperatures before igniting. More on that in a bit.
Similarly, the blend of the oil also influences its ignition point. A blend of virgin and refined olive oil has a higher ignition point compared to the pure extra virgin kind.
You should take into account the properties of different types of olive oil to better prevent accidental fires.
Does Olive Oil React with High Temperatures?
Olive oil indeed reacts with high temperatures. As the temperature of the oil rises, it starts nearing its smoke point; the temperature at which it starts to emit bluish smoke.
If the temperature continues to rise beyond this point, the olive oil can potentially ignite, leading to an accidental fire.
Also, overheating it doesn’t just increase fire risk but also seriously compromises the quality of the oil. High temperatures can break down the beneficial compounds in olive oil, reducing its nutritional value.
Additionally, it can produce harmful substances and lends the food cooked with it an unpleasant taste.
Avoid exposing olive oil to excessively high temperatures for good health, good taste and, most importantly, preventing fires!
Liquid Olive Oil Won’t Ignite Very Easily
Olive oil, in its typical liquid state, is not prone to ignition under normal cooking conditions. Even when subjected to intense heat, such as a flame from a cooking torch, it tends not to ignite immediately.
This is largely due to its high flash point; the temperature at which it can vaporize to form an ignitable mixture in air.
Heat transfer is another factor that plays a role here. In a body of liquid olive oil, the heat applied to the oil gets evenly distributed throughout the mass, preventing any one area from reaching the ignition point too quickly.
Therefore, while cooking with olive oil, know that it can withstand surprisingly high temperatures but caution should still be exercised to prevent overheating.
A Mist of Olive Oil Will Ignite Easily, However!
Conversely, a mist or spray of olive oil can ignite far more easily than liquid olive oil. The reason for this lies in the physics of surface area and heat absorption.
When it is misted, it forms tiny droplets. These droplets have a larger surface area relative to their volume, allowing them to heat up (even to ignition point) much faster than a mass of liquid.
Furthermore, in a mist form the oil droplets are surrounded by oxygen, which is necessary for combustion to occur.
This combination of increased surface area, rapid heating, and plentiful oxygen supply makes a mixture of olive oil far more susceptible to ignition.
It’s a crucial reminder for those who use spritzer bottles of oil in the kitchen to exercise extra care, particularly around open flames or hot surfaces, such as a blazing stove top burner.
Different Grades of Olive Oil Have Different Ignition Temps
When it comes to olive oil, grade is everything concerning the quality and the ignition characteristics. The grade and type can significantly influence its smoke and ignition points.
As stated by the North American Olive Oil Association, the smoke point of olive oil can range from 350 to 468 degrees Fahrenheit.
Extra-virgin and virgin types, known for their purity and minimal processing, typically have lower smoke and ignition points compared to more refined varieties.
This essentially means that these high-quality oils can ignite at lower temperatures, hence requiring careful handling especially when used in high-heat cooking methods.
Will Olive Oil Make a Fire Worse?
The answer is a resounding yes. Olive oil, rich in molecular hydrocarbons, has the potential to ignite and self-sustain a burning reaction. Its historical use as lamp and heating oil bears testimony to this…
The fuel-like properties of it mean that if it comes into contact with an existing fire, it can catch fire and burn intensely.
Therefore, it’s crucial to be mindful when using olive oil around open flames or hot surfaces, as any accidental spillage can potentially escalate a fire or feed a larger one.
Never, Ever Try to Put Out an Oil Fire with Water!
Attempting to extinguish any oil fire, including one caused by olive oil, with water is a dangerous and potentially life-threatening mistake.
When water is poured onto an oil fire, it instantly vaporizes due to the high temperature of the oil, expanding rapidly and displacing the oil.
This can cause the burning oil to splatter and spread, dramatically escalating the fire instead of putting it out.
This rapid expansion of water into steam can also cause a violent eruption, projecting burning oil in all directions.
This can lead not only to severe burns on contact but also to the risk of starting new fires on any nearby flammable materials.
Therefore, it’s crucial to use appropriate methods like a Class B fire extinguisher or baking soda to safely extinguish oil fires.
Is Olive Oil Reactive with Other Substances?
As far as I was able to find, olive oil does not react negatively with any other known substances under normal conditions. It doesn’t create specific hazards or increase fire risks when mixed with other ingredients or substances.
However, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t apply when olive oil is already on fire. In this case, adding other substances can potentially worsen the situation, depending on the properties of that substance.
Always prioritize safety and use appropriate fire-extinguishing methods when dealing with olive oil fires.
How Should You Deal with Olive Oil Exposed to Fire?
Handling an olive oil fire requires caution and the right approach. The most effective way to deal with such a fire is to smother it, depriving the fire of oxygen which it needs to burn.
This can be done using a metal lid or a fire blanket, both of which can effectively cover the burning area and cut off the oxygen supply.
In addition to smothering, a CO2 extinguisher or foam extinguishing agent can also be used to put out an olive oil fire. These extinguishers work by replacing the oxygen around the fire with carbon dioxide or foam, thereby suffocating the fire.
And again: It’s absolutely crucial to remember that water should never be used to put out an oil fire.
Water can cause the oil to splatter, potentially spreading it, and the steam generated can cause an eruption and severe burns, and even more widespread fires.
Tom Marlowe practically grew up with a gun in his hand, and has held all kinds of jobs in the gun industry: range safety, sales, instruction and consulting, Tom has the experience to help civilian shooters figure out what will work best for them.