By B.C. Manion
Thanksgiving — the day set aside for expressing gratitude for the good things in life — is also the No.1 day nationally for cooking fires, says the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association.
Cooking equipment fires also remain the leading cause of home fires and fire injuries, and are the third-leading cause of fire deaths, according to statistics from the NFPA.
There are ways, however, for families to avoid the risk of fires at Thanksgiving and through the holidays, local experts say.
“The most common cause of fire in the home is cooking,” said Capt. Bill Wade of Tampa Fire Rescue.
“Most of the fires that we see are from unattended cooking. They’ll put something on the stove and just forget,” said Amy Schultz, fire inspector/public education for Pasco County Fire Rescue.
The dangers of home fires increase during the holidays, when people cook more, use their fireplaces, light more candles, string holiday lights and so forth.
“The message we spread is, have fun — but be careful,” Wade said.
On Thanksgiving and throughout the holiday season, there tend to be more gatherings — with more people coming over and more cooking being done, said Vicky Yeakley, public education coordinator for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.
With so many people around, it’s easy for a cook to get distracted, Yeakley said. So, it’s important to take precautions to avoid potential dangers.
If you’re cooking something in the oven, for instance, be sure to check on it periodically and set a timer so you don’t forget, she said.
If you’re cooking on the stovetop and the doorbell or telephone rings, or someone needs your attention, be sure to turn the burner off or on low, and carry an oven mitt or wooden spoon with you to remind you that you have something on the stove, Yeakley said.
When you’re turning a burner on, be sure that you’ve turned on the right one. It’s easy to make that mistake and you could end up with a fire, she said. It’s also a good idea to clean up any spills to avoid potential fires in the future.
Also, try to avoid cooking when you are wearing loose-fitting clothing because the clothing can catch on fire, Yeakley said.
Also be sure to keep anything that could catch fire at least three feet away from the stove, Yeakley added.
Keep kids at least three feet away from the stove, too.
Stoves aren’t the only cooking equipment that can cause fires.
“Turkey frying has become quite popular,” Wade said, noting he understands the appeal because the turkey is quite tasty. However, he said, it is important to use the fryer safely.
“The turkey needs to be completely thawed,” he said.
Schultz agreed: If the turkey is not thawed, the ice will melt and cause the oil to overflow.
“Only put in as much oil as you are supposed to put in,” Wade said. Otherwise, when the turkey goes in, the oil could splash out potentially burning someone standing nearby.
Besides cooking fires, there are other potential fire hazards that become more prevalent at the holidays and during colder winter months.
People tend to light more candles to create a festive feel, but sometimes they forget to blow them out before leaving the house or going to sleep.
Wade recommends candles with a wide base because they are less likely to tip over.
It’s also important to keep a close watch on children, who tend to be fascinated by candle flames and fires burning in the fireplace, Yeakley said. Be sure that candles are out of children’s reach and be sure they are supervised wherever a fire is burning, she said.
It’s also important to keep an eye on youngsters near tables that are laden with hot foods, Yeakley said. Children who are learning to walk may tug on a tablecloth to help themselves up and can be burned by hot foods spilling on them, she said.
If someone does get burned, the burn should be cooled down with running tap water, Schultz said. Do not use ice as it can cause a frostbite-like injury, and don’t use butter because it seals the heat in, making the injury worse.
Fireplaces and space heaters are other sources of potential hazards.
When burning wood in the fireplace, be sure it’s the appropriate size, Wade said. Also be sure there’s a grate in front of the fireplace. “The smallest spark can start a fire.”
Avoid burning Christmas tree branches or wood in the fireplace, Yeakley said.
Don’t burn paper in the fireplace either, Yeakley said.
Embers from the fire can float out of the chimney onto the roof or onto nearby trees or bushes, which can start a blaze, she said.
“If you’ve ever seen a Christmas tree on fire, it almost explodes,” Yeakley said.
“If you’re going to have a fire in the fireplace, you can’t go to bed until that fire has gone to ashes,” she added.
With space heaters, be sure to leave at least 3 feet between the space heater and anything that could catch on fire, Yeakley said.
Christmas lights can also pose a hazard, if the wiring is frayed or cracked. Be sure to check your lights before you string them up. And, be sure to check for the Underwriters Laboratories Inc. (UL) label, which means they’ve been tested for safety, she said.
Finally, if you’re going to put up a fresh Christmas tree in your house, be sure that it’s not dried out when you buy it and be sure to keep it well-watered. For more information about Christmas trees, visit www.christmastree.org.
Protecting yourself and your home
– Every home should be protected by working smoke alarms. At minimum, there should be a smoke alarm on each story of the house and outside each bedroom. Even better — smoke alarms inside and outside each bedroom. Even better than that — a sprinkler system to put out fires.
– Every household should have a fire escape safety plan and should do a few trial runs. If a fire happens, you’ll be ready and will know what to do.
Source: Vicky Yeakley, public education coordinator for Hillsborough County Fire Rescue
Safe cooking tips
The National Fire Protection Association offers these tips for safe cooking:
Do not use the stove or stovetop if you have consumed alcohol or you are sleepy.
– Remain in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave the kitchen, even momentarily, be sure to turn off the stove.
– Do not use the stove or stovetop if you have consumed alcohol or you are sleepy.
– If you are simmering, baking, roasting, or boiling food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking, and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
– Keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop.
For additional information, visit www.nfpa.org
Fighting a cooking fire:
– If the fire on the stovetop is small, wear an oven mitt and use a tight-fitting lid to cover the pan, then slowly move it to another burner until it completely cools.
– If the fire is on spilled foods on the stove surface, douse it with baking powder.
– If the fire is inside the oven, turn off the oven and keep the door closed.