Thanksgiving leading day for home cooking fires in the United States; Risk can be reduced following safety tips

Published 6:36 am Tuesday, November 26, 2019

More than three times as many home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day as on a typical day of the year, according to the latest U.S. Home Cooking Fires report recently released by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

The report states that there were 1,600 reported home cooking fires on Thanksgiving in 2017, reflecting a 238 percent increase over the daily average. Unattended cooking was the leading cause of these fires.

“With people preparing multiple dishes, often with lots of guests and other distractions in and around the kitchen, it’s easy to see why the number of home cooking fires increases so dramatically,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “Fortunately, the vast majority of cooking fires are highly preventable with a little added awareness, and by taking simple steps to minimize those risks.”

Josh Kunze, engineer/firefighter with the Austin Fire Department, said that the AFD has responded to incidences during past Thanksgivings.

“In the past, we’ve had everything from cooking incidences, grass fires and garage fires,” he said. “A couple of years ago we had a fatality. It’s a gathering holiday; you get a lot of people congregating in an area and people can lose track of what they’re supposed to be doing. We do see an uptick in activity with the holidays.”

According to the NFPA report, cooking is the leading cause of home fires year-round, accounting for almost half of all US home fires (49 percent) and reported home fire injuries (45 percent). Cooking is the second-leading cause of home fire deaths, accounting for 22 percent of all fire deaths. The report also shows that less progress has been made in reducing deaths from home cooking fires than deaths from most other fire causes. There were more cooking fire deaths in 2013-2017 than in 1980-1984, despite total home fire deaths falling by 46 percent over the period.

The following are tips and recommendations from NFPA for cooking safely this Thanksgiving:

  • Never leave the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop. Some types of cooking, especially those that involve frying or sautéing with oil, need continuous attention.
  • When cooking a turkey, stay in your home and check on it regularly.
  • Make use of timers to keep track of cooking times, particularly for foods that require longer cook times.
  • Keep things that can catch fire, like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers and towels, at least three feet away from the cooking area.
  • Avoid long sleeves and hanging fabrics that could come in contact with a heat source.
  • Always cook with a lid beside your pan. If you have a fire, slide the lid over the pan and turn off the burner. Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time. Never throw water or use a fire extinguisher on the fire.
  • For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed. Only open the door once you’re confident the fire is completely out, standing to the side as you do. If you have any doubts or concerns, contact the fire department for assistance.
  • Keep children at least three feet away from the stove. Kids should also stay away from hot foods and liquids, as steam or splash from these items could cause severe burns.

In addition, NFPA strongly discourages the use of turkey fryers, as these can lead to severe burns, injuries, and property damage. For a safe alternative, NFPA recommends grocery stores, food retailers, and restaurants that sell deep-fried turkey.

Kunze also provided safety tips, both for Thanksgiving and year round:

  • Make sure you have working smoke detectors. “Many times when we go to a fire where someone got hurt, smoke alarms are not operational.” Kunze said. “They need to be working and tested.”
  • Pay attention. “Stay in the kitchen if you’re cooking and keep an eye on the food,” Kunze said. “Don’t leave home; just because the turkey has three hours to cook does not mean you should leave. Being aware and being proactive can solve a lot of problems.”
  • Heat from steam, hot grease and food spills can cause injuries. “They are way more common than a house fire, especially with small kids running around,” Kumze said. “Keep lids on pans and make sure the handles are turned inward so kids can’t get to them.”
  • Avoid cooking in the garage. “Grease fires need to be able to vent,” Kunze said. “If one starts in the garage, your garage will go up really quick.
  • Don’t wait to call 911. “If an event happens, a lot of people get embarrassed and tend not to call 911,” Kunze said. “Even if it is something like smoke or a small fire that you put out, make sure to call. We can always stop and go back to the station if we need to.”