What do you do when your oven is....on fire?
August 31, 2019 6:28 AM   Subscribe

I bought a condo, cool, but when I tried to use the oven for the first time there was a....medium-sized flame coming from the bottom of it. I turned off the oven, opened windows to clear out the smoke, and have been avoiding the oven for the past several weeks. How do I resolve this problem so that I can get back to the good life of eating roasted vegetables and frozen pizzas?

Relevant details:

- The oven is gas and appears to be Frigidaire brand if that means anything, and the flame appeared to be coming from...under the bottom part of inside the oven, which is screwed in to the base with screws at the back of the inside.

- Googling this tells me to either use vinegar to clean it, heavy duty industrial spray to clean it, or to run away because my kitchen is about the explode. Not sure who is right, but I think I would have to unscrew the bottom part to get into where the issue might be, and the idea of sticking my head into the oven to do that seems terrifying

- A friend told me to use the self-cleaning function, which the oven does have. I'm worried that will lead to more fire.

- I have a home warranty, but I'm worried that if I try to file a claim with them they will tell me that I'm an idiot and need to just clean the oven. Is there a way to figure out if this just a "the previous owner was bad at cleaning" situation vs a "something is terribly wrong" situation?

I have no idea what to do, so have been doing nothing. Help me Metafilter!
posted by aaanastasia to Home & Garden (15 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
First thing first, call the gas company to come check for a leak. We had to do this for a persistent gas smell in our new house when we moved in and they came out immediately and for free, diagnosed a minor leak in a supply hose and replaced it at once. They have instruments that can detect the gas without having to stick their face in the oven and can make sure that you are safe if you decide to take the cleaning route. It is in their best interest to make sure that no one blows themselves up trying have a working stove!
posted by DSime at 6:37 AM on August 31, 2019 [15 favorites]

It's very likely a "previous owner was bad at cleaning" situation, and grease was left in the oven. You don't need to get a professional cleaner - you can do this yourself. Get an oven cleaner from any hardware store and use it inside the oven.

The base of your oven is likely in place with four screws - you can remove them and pull it out, it's just a flat piece of metal above the heat source. Once you've removed it, clean it on both sides. Look inside the heat source area and see if there's anything else that's dripped down and clean that, too.

When we were in the process of buying our first condo, our home inspector turned on the oven to make sure it worked and managed to light it on fire because the previous owner had never, ever cleaned it. That was fun.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 6:39 AM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

Do you mean a flame sort of at the back of the oven towards the bottom? Or is this a separate flame actually within the oven space itself? In my experience gas ovens normally have a flame at the back that provides the heat. This is normal for this type of oven.

If this is actually the detritus on the bottom of the oven catching fire then you need to give the oven a good clean probably with something a bit stronger than vinegar. Look for something specifically designed for cleaning ovens preferably in a gel form so there are no fumes to avoid. Follow the instructions re wearing long gloves and covering up exposed skin as it is strong stuff.
posted by RandomInconsistencies at 6:39 AM on August 31, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am also team call the gas company, or the local Fire Department non emergency number, and have someone else look at it before you do anything to the oven. Better safe than sorry.
posted by phunniemee at 7:15 AM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

The oven is gas and appears to be Frigidaire brand if that means anything, and the flame appeared to be coming from...under the bottom part of inside the oven, which is screwed in to the base with screws at the back of the inside.

So the worrisome flame is NOT in the baking compartment and is under the bottom metal of the baking compartment?

If so that sounds like normal operation. See this youtube video for a typical burner flame (viewed from the the drawer opening)

However if it looks like this on the inside of the baking compartment you have a problem with the range. IE: you shouldn't see any flames inside the baking compartment.

If you can't smell gas you don't need to call the gas company/fire department.
posted by Mitheral at 7:33 AM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

I have a home warranty contract. If this turns out to be ridiculous, they will just charge you the co-pay and be happy to collect your money for little effort. So, I would say that you (or your seller) is paying the premium, use it. The only risk is that they are sloppy and tell you it just needs cleaning when it needs more but that's always a risk with home warranty repair folks.
posted by metahawk at 7:58 AM on August 31, 2019

To clarify a few things:

1. I don't smell gas in the condo (and I also do have CO2 detectors, which should help with any gas that I...don't smell)

2. This was a straight up "omg there is a fire inside my oven" flame, rather than a normal flame, which also involved a lot of smoke happening within the condo itself. The fire was coming out of this bottom opening -- https://imgur.com/a/4m6FvHF -- where it looks like a shadow, I think is actually a scorch mark

3. My home warranty co-pay is $75, which feels like a lot right now, so unless they will also clean the oven in addition to finding out if something is wrong (who knows! maybe they would!) I am hesitant
posted by aaanastasia at 8:59 AM on August 31, 2019

Look, co-pay or not, you need some outside help here. There is something wrong with your oven, and the internet is not going to fix it. In the picture, it doesn't look that dirty. But get on your hands and knees and thoroughly clean it. Heavy duty oven cleaner, follow the directions. Then try it again. If you still have flames inside the oven, call the gas company or an appliance service company.
posted by beagle at 9:47 AM on August 31, 2019 [4 favorites]

I imagine you would have investigated this already, but just in case (and because this varies by oven style): is there a broiler drawer under your oven?
posted by needs more cowbell at 9:52 AM on August 31, 2019 [7 favorites]

Seconding needs more cowbell. Natural gas flames, even with poor mixture, rarely result in smoky flames instead being the result of foreign matter. Your baking compartment looks reasonably clean so that substance would be someplace hidden.

Something might have dropped into that slot. Also you want to make sure someone didn't put a plastic bowl or other flammable in the broiler drawer paying special attention to the burner you'll see if you look up between the drawer and oven (someone might have melted some plastic to the underside of the burner or baking compartment bottom). Unlike an electric range one can't store items in the drawer of a gas range. It's wizard for cooking bacon though.

These areas are generally designed to be accessible for cleaning without a screw driver though not always. A search for your model number on the internet might reveal disassembly instructions.

If you don't see foreign substances or are unable to view the inside of the slot then it's time to call for service before you use the oven again. It'll be safe to use the rest of your range.
posted by Mitheral at 10:47 AM on August 31, 2019 [6 favorites]

I had something like that happen. The delightful mice that get into our old home had squirreled some dog food down there that caught fire.

I hired an appliance handyman who took apart that part of the oven to give it a good cleaning. I also had to have the thermostat replaced because the fire's heat had damaged it.

It was not a terribly expensive repair, maybe $200 with the part replacement. It was also not the first time this guy had seen mice related oven problems. Something that could be a problem if your place was vacant for awhile.
posted by saffry at 11:46 AM on August 31, 2019 [2 favorites]

PLEASE DON'T MESS WITH FIRE. Yes, get the gas company in - even if you don't smell gas. Yes, invoke the home warranty to get the oven checked for safety and soundness. Having to deal with a house fire, even a small one, is way worse than a repair callout seeming expensive. You just made a big investment. Go the extra few feet and reduce the risk of catastrophe to zero.

You may, in fact, need to buy a new oven, if this thing is bad enough. If that's the case, both your home inspector and the previous owner are on the hook for this, if you act quickly enough. (How quickly depends on the state you're in.)
posted by Citrus at 1:10 PM on August 31, 2019 [5 favorites]

Question: Does this oven have a broiler drawer below the main oven where the actual flames are? The picture you posted shows a pretty clean oven, but you never know what might be in the broiler compartment below the oven. There could definitely be some grease or something else in there that's catching on fire.

That said, if you're only talking about 75 bucks to have a professional look at and fix it, I don't know why you would hesitate to do that. It's money well spent.
posted by slkinsey at 1:26 PM on August 31, 2019 [1 favorite]

Find a plumber certified to work on gas appliances or use your home warranty. Peace of mind will be worth it.
posted by theora55 at 5:40 PM on September 1, 2019

Update: I did the home warranty co-pay, and the technician found that there was in fact broken glass and some other (probably former food) thing that had lit on fire. In all practicality, probably could have done this myself but hey, now it's fixed! Thanks all!
posted by aaanastasia at 9:11 AM on September 3, 2019 [3 favorites]

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