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State Fire Marshal: Be careful, as Thanksgiving is top day for home cooking fires

Almost half of Thanksgiving fires in residential buildings have occurred between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when many people are likely preparing Thanksgiving dinner.
Thanksgiving fire graphic.
Thanksgiving fire graphic.(WLUC/Pexels)
Published: Nov. 23, 2020 at 1:23 PM EST
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - LARA Director Orlene Hawks and State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer urge fire safety on Thanksgiving Day, which is the leading day for home cooking fires. Consumers who use portable deep fryers to cook turkeys should know the dangers involved and consider an oil-less fryer, which is a safer alternative to cook their turkey.

“It is important to take caution during the Thanksgiving holiday to protect your family from the dangers of cooking fires,” said Hawks. “Often times, these fires are entirely preventable. Please remain vigilant and stay attentive to fire safety tips during this holiday season.”

Portable propane fueled turkey fryers – a popular and faster cooking method for your Thanksgiving turkey – pose a considerable fire risk if not used correctly.

“Deep frying a turkey in several gallons of hot oil – over 350 degrees – is a dangerous activity,” said Sehlmeyer. “If the cooking oil vapors ignite, it becomes as flammable as gasoline. Never use a portable deep fryer in a garage, on or under a deck, breezeway, porch or inside any structure. Improperly deep-frying turkeys can be dangerous and accounts for the high number of house and garage fires reported each year.”

According to the National Fire Protection Association, portable deep fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for safe use by even well-informed and careful consumers.

Portable deep fryers use a lot of oil, and vapors coming off the heated cooking oil are highly combustible. Care must be used to not overfill the cooking oil in a portable deep fryer, or splash-back can occur and boil over when immersing the turkey. Grease fires commonly start with cooking oil spilling over the sides of the fryer onto the flames below. Vapors can ignite if the unit is heated beyond its cooking temperature of 350 degrees.

If rain or snow hits the hot cooking oil, the cooking oil may splatter or turn to steam that can lead to burns. This video demonstrates how dangerous turkey fryers can be. Oil-less electric or infrared models are much safer methods of cooking your Thanksgiving turkey, provided instructions are followed carefully.

Safety precautions to take when using a portable propane deep fryer include:

  • Always use the portable deep fryer on a flat surface, well away from houses, garages, decks, trees, bushes and other outdoor hazards.
  • Use a portable deep fryer with a gas valve controller.
  • Make sure your turkey is completely thawed and dry the turkey prior to putting it in the fryer.
  • Never leave the portable deep fryer unattended.
  • Keep children and pets away from the portable deep fryer.
  • Allow at least two feet of space between the liquid propane tank and the portable deep fryer burner.
  • Only use cooking oil recommended by the deep fryer manufacturer; different types of cooking oil have different ignition temperatures when heated.
  • Do not overfill the portable deep fryer with cooking oil.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts as the deep fryer lid and handle can become very hot
  • Wear safety goggles to protect eyes from cooking oil splatter.
  • If the cooking oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the propane tank to OFF by closing the propane tank valve.
  • Always keep a fire extinguisher (dry powder) ready; never use water to extinguish a cooking oil or grease fire.

Cooking in the kitchen has its own fire risks with stovetops and ovens working overtime, and busy cooks becoming distracted preparing the holiday feast while entertaining guests.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, cooking fires in residential buildings occurred more often on Thanksgiving Day than any other day of the year. Cooking was, by far, the leading cause of all Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings at 77 percent. Two-thirds of home cooking fires start when food or cooking materials catch on fire and almost half of Thanksgiving fires in residential buildings occurred between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., when many people are likely preparing Thanksgiving dinner.

“Always keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it,” said Sehlmeyer. “If you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, don’t try and fight a fire yourself. Immediately call 9-1-1 in such emergencies and quickly evacuate your family and friends out of the home. During this busy time, unattended cooking becomes the main cause of residential fires. Never leave cooking unattended, not even for a second.”

Cooking fires can easily be prevented by following a few simple precautions:

  • Start with a clean stove and oven.
  • Remove food and grease buildup from burners, stovetop, and oven.
  • Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove to prevent pot tipping by young children to prevent burns.
  • Wear short sleeves or roll sleeves up, so not to catch your clothing on fire during cooking.
  • Check food regularly while it’s simmering, baking, boiling or roasting.
  • Set timers to keep track of turkeys and other foods that require extended cooking times.
  • Turn off the stove if you must leave the kitchen for even a short period of time.
  • Keep children away from cooking areas; do not hold children while cooking.
  • Keep kitchen clutter, potholders, towels, and food wrappers well away from the stove burners.
  • Keep a pan lid or cookie sheet nearby; always use an oven mitt.
  • For an oven fire, turn off the oven and keep the door closed.

Michiganders are reminded to test the smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors of elderly family members when visiting them during the Thanksgiving holiday. Homes should have a smoke alarm on every level and in every sleeping area. It is important for families to develop and practice a Fire Escape Plan. The MI Prevention task force has identified that people between the ages of 40 and 69 are at the greatest risk to die in residential fires in Michigan.

Visit the Bureau of Fire Services’ website at www.michigan.gov/miprevention for more fire safety information.

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