Students learn the hard way
It’s that time of year again as thousands, nay tens of thousands of fresh faced students leave home, many for the first time in their lives, to attend University. Mum has packed them off with everything but the kitchen sink to squash into the changing cubicles that pass as student accommodation in most Halls of Residence.

The shock to the system for the erstwhile fresher is the realization that for the next 4 or 5 years they have to largely fend for themselves rather than relying on the miracle that is mother to do the dirty work. Small details like getting to grips with the woolens cycle, relying on their own common sense to stay out of trouble and feeding themselves on the pittance left over once the bar bill has been paid will all take their toll.

Not all take to this with the aplomb expected of an otherwise intelligent university entrant as the students in the University of Portsmouth’s James Watson halls of residence found out last week when more than 100 students were evacuated after a fire broke out on the first floor.

Someone had apparently forgotten they had left a pan cooking merrily on the hob. Cooking oils and fats like any other oils have an auto-ignition temperature above which they ignite spontaneously. For the benefit of non science students out there, unlike more traditional flammable liquids such as petrol and solvents, the auto-ignition temperature for cooking oils can vary immensely. Auto-ignition can occur anywhere from 285°C to 385°C. For auto-ignition to occur, the entire mass of oil must have been heated to beyond the auto-ignition temperature. However, once ablaze the oil changes composition slightly resulting in a new auto-ignition temperature, which may be as much as 30°C lower. The result is the fire becomes self-sustaining until the entire mass of oil is cooled to below this new lower auto-ignition temperature.

The pan in question duly overheated, the oil ignited and caused a fire which quickly spread to the cooker hood and ceiling. One male student tried to do the right thing and threw a fire blanket over the pan. This is absolutely OK if the fire is confined to the pan. He may possibly have had better results with a wet chemical fire extinguisher which is designed specifically for this type of fire and includes a long lance so you can apply it from a distance.

However if the fire has spread to other combustibles the best course of action is to raise the alarm, get out fast and call the emergency services. The brave chap, who also had asthma, found this out the hard way and was overcome with the fumes but thankfully with the prompt intervention of Southsea Fire Services he and his cohorts survived unharmed.

It is a statistical fact that most chip pan fires are caused in the evening and quite late at night when a quick fry up after a few pints of the amber nectar seems de rigueur. Ironically for students starved of mum’s home cooking, like its pal the tin opener the chip pan is seen as a virtual lifesaver. The first lesson they should be taught is that it can also be a life taker.