The South Korean government has advised owners of cats to unplug their portable electric stoves when they aren’t using them. The advice comes after more than 100 house fires in the past three years were linked to the curious creatures.
There were 107 house fires in the country’s capital between January 2019 and November last year caused by cats. Four people were injured and US$120,000 worth of damage was caused.
Seoul Metropolitan Fire and Disaster Management Department, which coordinates fire and rescue services in Seoul, believes the curious creatures started the fires by accidentally pressing touch-sensitive buttons that control the temperature on electric stoves, which caused the appliances to overheat and catch fire.
The number of cat-related fires has been on the rise recently, said Chung Gyo-Chul, a senior department official, who advised pet owners to turn off appliances before leaving home to avoid fires caused by furry friends.
Cat owners are also urged to take care to store away dishcloths, tea towels, and other flammable objects. This is because they can start fires and cats can use them to get to places they otherwise wouldn’t be able to access.
An expert from LG Electronics in Seoul said that high-end stoves are likely to include safety features that prevent them from overheating and catching fire. These features include requiring that buttons be pressed in an “exact three-step sequence” in order to turn the hob on, and an automatic shut-off that occurs when no objects are placed on the hob.
In many households, cats can pose an innate fire hazard. This is because they are often left home alone for hours at a time and do not understand the risks of knocking a candle over, pressing the switch on a kitchen appliance and chewing electrical wires.
In the British county of Kent in January 2020, pets were reported to have caused two house fires within one week. This was after a cat, and separately a dog, accidentally ignited gas stoves, resulting in one of the owners being hospitalized.
In the United States, the animal welfare organisation American Humane estimates that 1,000 house fires are caused by cats and dogs every year. It advises owners to minimise the risk by pet-proofing their homes.
In the Pet Fire Safety section of its website, it suggests removing stove knob covers and discouraging pets from climbing in the kitchen – and accidentally nudge of a stove knob is the number one reason for house fires started by pets.
“In order to prevent fires, you should keep your cats away from the stove.”
As well as keeping pets away from fireplaces and unattended candles, the organization recommends securing loose wires to prevent pets from chewing on them.
A version of this article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post.