I would just like to say it wasn't entirely my fault. I was actually in the kitchen when it happened. Usually disaster simmers into a full-blown eruption when I wander away, distracted by shiny squirrels elsewhere. But I was there.
Here's the story: I have an old stove. One of those electric coil ones with the pans you better put aluminum liners in or you'll spend all your days trying to scrub them clean. I'm not a terribly accomplished cook, but I like to clean as I go, and am fastidious enough that I don't like to have splashes and spills flying everywhere. And yet, somehow, no matter how clean I keep the stove, something ends up in the liner, which in that exact spot happens to be close enough to the coils that the lowest heat causes a noxious haze of smoke to arise. An additional fun little feature of this stove is that only at the highest setting will water actually boil. The smallest movement of the dial towards less hot results in at most an enthusiastic simmer.
So. Last night I had meat doing its thing nicely in the Dutch oven on the front big burner, with the pot of water on the back big burner (oh, how I love stove design that puts a large element in the back, requiring either a back-breaking lean or an arm-burning reach) on high for the spaetzle. I began to notice an odd scorched smell, but the meat was fine, and I'd only just put the water on, so what the heck was that smell about? Then suddenly there was a red glow all under the pot of water (water, for pity's sake!) and that turned into an actual flame! My pot of not even simmering water was on fire! As if that sort of thing happens to me all the time, I very calmly said out loud, "Oh." My mind scrambled to try to remember what kind of fire you used water to put out, and what kind you used baking soda... but wait, this is an electric stove, will water cause a short, or an even bigger fire? While my brain worked on those problems, I pulled the pot off the element , releasing the flame to climb the front panel of the stove and reach for the exhaust hood - and slammed the lid on the burner. Luckily, though the lid was too big to create a good seal, it did the trick and the fire died out.
Once dishes were done last night, I checked the drip pan of that burner, and you know what? There must have been a crumb or two in it. The toaster sits on top of the fridge on that side of the stove, and the last time I wiped crumbs off the fridge, they must have fallen into the liners. That's what caused it. So from now on I'm going to be super vigilant about keeping those things immaculately clean, and will also remain in the confines of the kitchen whenever the stove is on.
At least until the next shiny squirrel leads me away.