When you're cooking in the kitchen, it's easy to become distracted. There's a knock at the door, your cell phone rings, or you step out of the room for "just a second" to take care of another item on your "to do" list.

However, that moment of inattention could be just long enough for a fire to start in the kitchen, threatening your home or family. "Preventing kitchen fires" is the theme of this year's fire prevention week, Oct. 6 through 12, and the Newton fire department is reminding community members to stay safe in the kitchen.

Fire Marshal Randall McBee said cooking and heating are the No. 1 cause of fires, and unattended cooking is the No. 1 cause of kitchen fires. According to the National Fire Protection Association, cooking equipment is involved in about 150,000 home fires per year.

When you are cooking, there should be a three feet clearance area around the stove. Make sure children and pets stay out of this zone. Keep oven mitts, wooden utensils, curtains, food packaging and other flammable objects away from the stove top, and the stove top should be cleaned frequently to prevent build-up of spilled food or grease that could catch fire.

If a fire does start on the stove top, put a lid on the pan to smother the fire, and then turn off the heat. If the fire happens inside the oven, turn off the heat and leave the door closed.

Keep a fire extinguisher handy, as well. If you believe the fire is too large to put out yourself, get everyone out of the house and call 9-1-1.

Other general fire safety tips include:

• Create a fire escape plan for your family and practice it at least once a year. Plan two ways out of every room. Designate a meeting place everyone should go after they escape, such as a mailbox. "It's very important that they know how to get out of the house and know what to do," McBee said.

• Once you escape from a burning house, never go back inside.

• Teach children it is dangerous to play with matches and lighters.

• Make sure your smoke detectors are working properly and have fresh batteries — more people die from smoke inhalation than from the fire itself, McBee said. If you are a renter, your landlord is required to pay for smoke detectors. If you own your own home but can't afford detectors, call the Newton fire department at 284-6060, and they will install a smoke detector for your family.

The good news is, house fires are declining nationally, McBee said. He credits this to education, people paying more attention, and the use of smoke detectors.