Tipsy Wisconsin Cooks Face Fines for Fires

MADISON, Wis. --

When it comes to careless kitchen fires, Madison firefighters say enough is enough, and they're ready to get tough on those responsible.

When a fire truck leaves the station, chances are it's responding to a kitchen fire. It's the leading cause of fires in Madison and nationwide, according to officials. Madison, however, is taking an unprecedented step to try and reverse the dangerous trend.

"We're talking about the most egregious offenders," said Lori Wirth from the Madison Fire Department. "We're talking about people who say, 'I've been out drinking all night. Now I'm going to fry chicken.'"

That scenario is what led fire leaders to start brainstorming about what they could do to prevent such careless acts. Wirth said drunken cooking, as odd as it sounds, happens more than most people may think, and fire officials compare it to the dangers of drunken driving.

In the last four years, there's only been one fire-related death in Madison. It happened in August 2010 when a cooking fire claimed a woman's life. Fire investigators said it was the perfect storm, as the victim was intoxicated and cooking. There were also no working smoke alarms in her home.

"What we want people to do is think and say, 'I can't just turn something on high and walk away,'" Wirth said.

Madison Alder Paul Skidmore, one of the sponsors of the proposed ordinance, said it just makes sense. The ordinance would penalize serious kitchen fire offenders with a maximum fine of $5,000. A fine wouldn't always happen, and the amount would change based on how serious the fire or the threat was.

"It's going to provide some accountability and some penalties for people who have some really negligent behavior related to cooking," Skidmore said.

Madison Fire said it's not about citing people; it's about common sense. Wirth said she hopes it starts a conversation about this real, dangerous problem. One that's preventable.

"If you can't stand up because you're that inebriated, then by golly you shouldn't be cooking," Wirth said.

The ordinance is getting some tweaking right now in a city committee. The Madison Common Council could vote on the ordinance in December.

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