By TRIBUNE STAFF
Cooking is, and has long been, the leading cause of home structure fires and home fire injuries, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Home cooking fires peak on major U.S. holidays that traditionally include cooking such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Easter.
NFPA’s 2013 “Home Fires Involving Cooking Equipment” report states that in 2011, Thanksgiving was the leading day for home cooking fires, with three times as many fires occurring on this holiday as any average day of the year. In 2011, there were 1,210 fires on Thanksgiving, a 183 percent increase over the daily average.
“Thanksgiving is a fun and festive holiday, but it can also be very hectic,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy for NFPA. “Hosting and entertaining guests can cause distractions and it’s easy to forget about what’s cooking in the oven and on the stovetop.”
Overall, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 156,600 home fires involving cooking equipment from 2007-2011 per year. These fires caused an annual average of 400 civilian deaths, 5,080 civilian injuries and $853 million in direct property damage.
“By recognizing the risks of the holidays and making simple adjustments, however, people can greatly reduce their chance of home cooking fires,” said Carli.
NFPA recommends the following safety tips for cooking on Thanksgiving:
• Keep an eye on what you fry. Always stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food.
• Keep things that can catch fire such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels and curtains away from the cooking area.
• Be alert when cooking. If you are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the oven or stovetop.
If you have a small (grease) cooking fire and decide to fight the fire:
• On the stovetop, smother the flames by sliding a lid over the pan and turning off the burner. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
• For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
If you have any doubt about fighting a small fire:
• Just get out! When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire.
• Call 911 or the local emergency number from outside the home.
NFPA also discourages the use of turkey fryers, a popular cooking method on Thanksgiving. The use of turkey fryers can lead to devastating burns and other injuries, and the destruction of property due to the large amount and high temperature of oil used. NFPA urges those who prefer fried turkey to look for grocery stores, specialty food retailers and restaurants that sell deep fried turkeys.