‘Be attentive to your cooking’: How to prepare Thanksgiving dinner without a visit from firefighters

ST. GEORGE — A house fire isn’t something people generally associate with preparing Thanksgiving dinner; however, according to the National Fire Protection Association, there are three times as many cooking-related house fires on Thanksgiving Day versus any other day of the year.

Photo by Nattakorn Maneerat/iStock/Getty Images Plus, St. George News

St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker confirmed with St. George News that they anticipate getting calls about cooking-related fires.

A primary cause of cooking fires is people not paying attention or getting distracted, Stoker said.

“You’re cooking so many dishes and side dishes – just make sure you’re paying attention and don’t lose track,” he said, adding that some people can forget all the different dishes they are cooking or get pulled away by a phone call or some other distraction. “Just be attentive to your cooking.”

Not paying attention to what’s cooking on the stove top may result in a pot boiling away and causing a lot of smoke – or even a potential fire that can reach into the cabinets above and spread from there.

The St. George Fire Department has responded to a handful of cooking-related fire calls on Thanksgiving Day in previous years, Stoker said, and expects to do so again this year.

A particular point of concern, he noted, is the use of deep-fat-fryers for cooking turkeys.

A scene from an video for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission on holiday cooking safety. The scene in the image shows the moment when the hot oil reacts to the frozen turkey and combusts. | Photo courtesy of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, St. George News

“We’re still seeing quite a bit of people who deep fry,” the fire chief said. “A lot of fire and severe burns have been caused by those.”

If someone plans to use a deep fryer to cook the Thanksgiving turkey, Stoker said to follow the manufacturer recommendations and instructions.

“With that hot oil, the turkey needs to be completely thawed out,” he said. “If it’s got ice on it, or it’s frozen, it will react with that hot oil.”

When the ice in the turkey reacts to the oil, it creates steam that rapidly expands, causing the oil to boil over and ignite in a process called a “boiling liquid expanding vapor explosion.”

A fryer-related fire can also be caused by overfilling the fryer with oil, which then overflows when a turkey is added. The overflowing oil may then come into contact with an open propane-fueled fire used for heating the oil, causing it to ignite.

Another way to cook turkeys that has become popular is smoking them, Stoker said. If someone chooses to smoke the bird, he suggests they use the smoker away from external walls of a home and other structures.

In this 2017 file photo, firefighters respond to the report of smoke coming from an apartment on 600 South and discover it was coming from burning food left on a stove, St. George, Utah, Sept. 21, 2017 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

People should also make sure the smoke alarms in their homes are in working order, and having a fire extinguisher in a spot that can be accessed quickly is recommended as well.

Turkey day aside, according to a report from the National Fire Protection Association, cooking is the leading cause of home fires year-round, accounting for 49% of American home fires and 45% of reported home fire injuries.

Cooking is the second-leading cause of home fire deaths, accounting for 22% 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% over the period.

Other numbers from the report related to Thanksgiving and cooking-related fires are as follows:

  • Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day, the day before Thanksgiving, Easter and Christmas Eve.
  • In 2018, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,630 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving.
  • Unattended cooking was by far the leading contributing factor in cooking fires and fire deaths.
cooking for date night
Photo by iStock, St. George News

To help make sure the warmth of the holidays stays in the food and the hearts of those who receive it rather than a blaze consuming a home, the National Fire Protection Association provided the following list of safety tips for Thanksgiving Day:

  • Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stove-top so you can keep an eye on the food.
  • Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.
  • Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.
  • Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
  • Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
  • Keep knives out of the reach of children.
  • Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
  • Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
  • Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle.
  • Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.

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