Fire in oven element - can I still use burners?
January 28, 2013 4:11 PM   Subscribe

So I had a small fire in my oven...

I was preheating my electric oven and when I opened the door, one of the elements popped, sparked and shot out an impressive flame ... I closed the door, turned it off and the flame died right down - the element stayed pretty red hot for a few minutes. I probably just need the heating element replaced and the overall oven checked - I contacted an appliance guy because I am not about to try fixing anything involving electricity, thank you. But due to my scheduling and his, he can't come fix it until Thursday or Friday. Meanwhile, I have overnight guests here starting tomorrow - is it safe to use the stove-top burners in the interim? New phobia in the making here: fear of leaving the room for more than 30 seconds when the oven is on -- so glad there was nothing in the oven that could have caught fire. Electricity, you scary.
posted by madamjujujive to Home & Garden (16 answers total)
My gut says No Fucking Way.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:17 PM on January 28, 2013

Our oven element did much the same thing, so we took down the make and model number of our ancient stove and went to something like "Appliance Hut" where they have parts for everything, bought a new element and plugged it in when we got home. But! Meanwhile, the burners still worked because they are wired on a different circuit than the oven element and they were fine. Good luck!
posted by Lynsey at 4:19 PM on January 28, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't fuck around with electricity or stoves. You don't know if it's just the element or a fault in the stove itself.

Your overnight guests shall adore pizza and salads.
posted by tel3path at 4:22 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

The stove top burners are usually removable by hand. I haven't tried with the oven portion, but I wouldn't be surprised if it could be pulled out by hand or, at most, a phillips screwdriver.

You are perfectly safe if you don't turn on the oven portion. You are almost perfectly safe even if you do by accident, though it could start a fire. Since you didn't mention unplugging the stove already, it sounds like the device is safe when off (by now, it'll have reached a safe state).

So: duck tape the oven temperature dial in place (or whatever oven controls) and feel free to use the stove top.
posted by flimflam at 4:30 PM on January 28, 2013

Okay I figured I should justify my gut reaction. Here's what likely happened: a short in the bake element.

There is probably nothing wrong with the burners, so they're not unsafe necessarily -- the risk is that the bake element turns on again and pulls current through a short (risk of fire and maybe shock). There's a risk the control circuitry was damaged and that might mean you can't control whether the bake element turns on or off. That's what I'd be worried about and I personally would not use the oven until a professional had declared it safe.
posted by PercussivePaul at 4:39 PM on January 28, 2013

Our oven element destroyed itself by arcing, and I never even considered not using the stovetop elements while we waited for the replacement element to arrive. I did remove the old element immediately, though, and covered the contacts with electric tape while I waited for the replacement. It never occurred to me it might be a fire hazard, but I had no problem for the week or so I used it this way.
posted by mollweide at 4:40 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't imagine a reason you can't use your burners. They're wired separately from the oven. It would be a strange design for the oven element to be tied to the stove elements.

I get that you're fearful, but you could grab a flashlight and see if the element is cracked, or if there was just some debris on it. If it's just dirty, you can clean it off, or whatever and it will probably be fine.

The element is almost certainly easily removable, and if you are concerned, you could remove it. Put tape over the contacts as a precaution. You'll be fine to leave it alone and off until the appliance guy arrives, though.

Elements are like lightbulbs - and they wear out over time and are basically consumable, just the same.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 4:45 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

If the oven was actually on a dial setting named 'preheat' AND the element in the top of the oven is the one that sparked, I'd bet you can still use the oven and the top of the stove with no problem.

In fact you can still probably turn it on 'preheat' with no problem except that the top element won't work-- and you can't broil anything, either, of course.

If it was the bottom element you won't be able to bake anything, but you could still use the stovetop.
posted by jamjam at 4:49 PM on January 28, 2013

This has happened to me three times in the past ten years. You just need a new heating element. Don't use the oven, but the stovetop is fine.
posted by something something at 5:04 PM on January 28, 2013

madamjujujive writes " is it safe to use the stove-top burners in the interim? "

100% absolutely yes.
posted by Mitheral at 5:14 PM on January 28, 2013

I was preheating my electric oven and when I opened the door, one of the elements popped, sparked and shot out an impressive flame...

It's an odd coincidence that this problem waited to happen until you opened the oven door.

The vibration from opening the door could have caused some electrical contact to be made, or more likely in my opinion, the inrush of oxygen could have caused something which was merely smoldering to burst into flame.

Which is to say that Pogo_Fuzzybutt might well have been right:

I get that you're fearful, but you could grab a flashlight and see if the element is cracked, or if there was just some debris on it. If it's just dirty, you can clean it off, or whatever and it will probably be fine.

The only thing that I can see in your question which cuts against this is the "sparked" in "popped, sparked and shot out an impressive flame... ."
posted by jamjam at 5:45 PM on January 28, 2013

This happened to me TWICE with the same range. Both times I went on using the stove top burners for several months - it was fine! Nothing happened! They're completely separate from the oven and seriously, I wouldn't worry about using the stove top at all. My good friend who owns the used restaurant supply business swore up and down to me that it was safe and he was right.

That said, the first time I replaced the oven element myself and it was surprisingly simple; the hardest part was finding the correct replacement. I had to go to a specialty electric supply place with the remnants of the old element (it had burned up, like there were three places where it just had consumed itself) and they found one for me. However, when it happened again about a year later I decided that this was a sign my oven was shot. I saved up - and just didn't cook anything that required an oven for five months - and replaced the whole thing with a used gas range because I never want to watch an electrical fire in my oven again, pretty though it is in a kind of postapocalyptic way. So you may want to think about the age of your range before you bother fixing it.
posted by mygothlaundry at 6:17 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Disclaimer: I work for a major appliance manufacturer. I used to work at our (now defunct) DIY repair line. I answered this question a lot.

The folks above have it right: the cooktop burners are wired separately from the oven, so there should be no problem using them while you wait for repair. Just make sure you don't turn on the oven in that time.

You absolutely want to visually inspect the burner, however. Food debris in the oven falling on a hot oven element can cause the pop/spark/flaming you described, without rendering said element useless. Get a flashlight, take a look, and if there's any debris, knock it off with a wooden spoon (don't touch it yourself, of course). Then turn your oven on its absolutely lowest setting, and check how it warms up. If it warms up okay, you won't need the repair dude.

And yes, DIY repair for this is ridiculously easy (video aid).
posted by magstheaxe at 7:11 PM on January 28, 2013

Electric stove elements are pretty basic, and if they crack, they can cause arcing - electricity goes where it's not supposed to.

Make sure you know where the stove's electrical plug is, so you can unplug the stove if anything untoward happens, but it won't. It's also generally a good idea to know where the fusebox is.
posted by theora55 at 7:12 PM on January 28, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ah, you guys are smart and reassuring - thank you much On waking this morning, I just turned on the burner for my first cup of tea - hovered by the stove just to be certain and all was fine. The helpful links took some of the mystery out of the black box that was my oven - but I will still leave the repairing to appliance man. At least I'll now know what he's doing.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:40 AM on January 29, 2013

Hah, this gives you a good window on how often I use my oven to cook since my question was more than a month ago. Repair guy came today, it is indeed just a matter of a coil replacement. I have been using the top burners (with no problems), microwave & toaster oven in the interim. He estimates parts and labor to be $60-60, which seems reasonable. Y'all gave me good enough instructions to probably do it myself but, no, that is not going to happen - anything involving electricity beyond bulb-changing, switch-flicking is over my pay grade. Thanks again, all, for your help.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:17 AM on March 5, 2013

« Older What's Misha the bear's last name?   |   Advice and tips for parents of a child starting... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.