Guest Column — Hot Topics

Most home-cooking fires happen on Thanksgiving Day

Some meal-prep safety tips for Thanksgiving.
Some meal-prep safety tips for Thanksgiving.
International Association of Fire Fighters

Turkey, stuffing, gravy, sweet potatoes and desserts all smell much better than smoke. Our homes will soon be filled with these aromas, but statistics show that our homes may be filled with smoke too.

According to the National Fire Protection Association and International Association of Fire Fighters, home fires involving cooking peak on major holidays such as Thanksgiving.

Thanksgiving has triple the average number of fires involving cooking equipment.

Cooking fires are very common and usually avoidable. They are the most frequent cause of fires in homes. Cooking related fires were responsible for 40 percent of all reported fires in homes, and in over 80 percent of fires in apartment buildings. Unattended equipment is a key factor of these fires. 

According to the NFPA, ranges or stovetops are involved in the majority of cooking fires. The most common cause of these fires is due to unattended cooking. Two-thirds of house fires involving cooking equipment begin with the ignition of food — mostly being fat, oil, or grease — causing roughly three-quarters of civilian deaths, injuries and direct property damage associated with food ignitions.

Some appliances and ovens are designed to have high heat and flames within. Do not open the door of your oven or microwave if you see unusual flames or smoke inside. Keep the door closed, this will limit the spread of the smoke or fire, turn off the appliance, and call the fire department. 

Follow these tips when cooking or dealing with a cooking fire.

•Stand by your pan. Don’t leave unattended food cooking on the stovetop.

•Put a lid on a grease fire to smother it, and then turn off the heat.

•Smother baking soda over a grease fire. It is an extinguishing agent. Never use flour instead of baking soda, it can increase the fire.

•Never move a burning pan. You can be badly burned or spread the fire.

•Never throw water on or use a water extinguisher on a grease fire. Water will only spread the fire. The force of the extinguisher can splash flaming grease out of the pan. 

•Keep pot handles turned inward to prevent accidental spills of hot contents.

•Create a three-foot “child-free zone” around the stove. Keep children and pets away while cooking to prevent burns and scalds.

•Keep combustible objects such as potholders, towels, paper or plastic bags away from heating elements.

•Don’t place any metal inside a microwave. Utensils, aluminum foil or twist-tie wraps can arc and cause a fire.

•Don’t use the oven to store items, especially oven mitts or towels.

•In the event of a fire, leave the building immediately and call the fire department. Leave the firefighting to us; the majority of victims injured in fires are hurt while attempting to fight the fire. Working smoke detectors can double a family’s chances of surviving a fire.

In regards to a deep fried turkey, I strongly recommend against this method. I consider turkey fryers to be dangerous. They present numerous safety hazards cited by the Underwriters Laboratory. If using a turkey fryer, please use the following tips:

•They should always be used outdoors at a safe distance from buildings and any other flammable materials.

•Never use in a garage or on a wooden deck.

•Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. 

•Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.

•Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If you do not watch it carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.

•Never let children or pets near the fryer even if it is not in use. •The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot hours after use.

•To avoid oil spillover, do not overfill the fryer.

•Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. Wear safety goggles to protect from oil splatter.

•Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and dry. Oil and water do not mix; water can cause the oil to spill over and start a fire.

I hope this article serves you well, especially during this holiday season.  

Lt. Sam Pinto is a career firefighter, paramedic, nationally certified fire instructor, and certified fire and life safety educator. He can be reached at