When most of us think about Thanksgiving, images of turkey, stuffing and time spent with loved ones typically come to mind, not fire hazards. However, an increased risk of fire is, in fact, a reality of Thanksgiving. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), three times as many home cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving as on a typical day.
NFPA’s latest cooking estimates shows that there were 1,550 cooking fires on Thanksgiving in 2013, reflecting a 230 percent increase over the daily average. Home cooking fires also spike on other major U.S. holidays, including Christmas Day, Christmas Eve and Memorial Day weekend. Unattended cooking is the leading cause of home cooking fires.
“A combination of factors collectively increase the risk of home cooking fires on Thanksgiving,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “People are often preparing multiple dishes with lots of guests and other distractions, which can make it all too easy to forget what’s on the stove. That’s when cooking mishaps are most likely to occur.”
While the number of cooking fires spikes on holidays, it’s also one of the leading causes of home fire year-round. Between 2009 and 2013, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 162,400 home cooking fires per year. These fires resulted in an annual average of 430 civilian fire deaths, 5,400 reported injuries and $1.1 billion in direct property damage.
Fortunately, Carli notes, there are many simple steps people can take to ensure safe cooking on Thanksgiving. “A little added awareness about potential fire hazards and taking a few basic precautions in the kitchen can go a long way toward keeping your Thanksgiving fire-free,” said Carli.
Here are NFPA’s top five tips for cooking with fire safety in mind on Thanksgiving and beyond:
- Remain in the kitchen while you’re cooking, and keep a close eye on what you fry! Always stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. If you have to leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove. Regularly check on food that’s simmering, baking or roasting, and use a timer to remind you that you’re cooking.
- 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 stove or stovetop.
- If you have a small (grease) cooking fire on the stovetop and decide to fight the fire: 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’re cooking a turkey using a disposable aluminum pan, consider doubling up and using two pans to avoid a puncture, as dripping turkey juices can cause an oven fire.
NFPA 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.