Prevent kitchen fires, cook with caution this Thanksgiving

A kitchen in a Fort Campbell home recently caught fire when cooking materials were left inside an oven while it was in self-clean mode. Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires with more than three times the daily average for such incidents, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,400 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving, according to the report.

Among the flurry of food, Family and fun on Thanksgiving, Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services encourages all to use safe practices to prevent fire from ruining the holiday.

Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services is available 24 hours a day to help.

“When in doubt, call 911,” said Wendy Leo, fire inspector, Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services. “If you have to second guess it, just give us a call. We will come on over and check things out to make sure everything is safe. That’s what we are here for – to keep Families safe.”

Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires with more than three times the daily average for such incidents, according to the National Fire Protection Association. In 2019, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 1,400 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving, according to the report.

Unattended cooking

On a national level, unattended cooking was by far the leading contributing factor in cooking fires and deaths, according to the 2019 report.

Anthony Hilderbrand, district chief of Fire Prevention, Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services, said unattended cooking also has been a concern on post.

“Anytime we are cooking we need to make sure we have eyes on it at all times,” he said.

He said a fire can start in a matter of seconds.

“They may think they just need to go check on something and next thing you know they have flames running up their cabinets,” he said.

“It can happen just that quick,” he said.

The stove top and surrounding area should be clear of combustible items such as curtains, potholders, towels, rags, drapes and food packaging.

“Everybody is so busy, but just take a minute to pay attention to what you are doing at the stovetop,” Leo said. “Do not leave the stove at all for any reason. Do not leave your kitchen and definitely do not leave your home when you are cooking something.”

Those working in the kitchen are encouraged to dress appropriately. Garments that have long, draped sleeves are a fire hazard when cooking. Leo also advises people not to wear dangly jewelry when cooking.

“After dinner is done and the stove is turned off, then take some time to yourself to go and get dressed for the meal,” she said.

Containing the fire

First and foremost, all kitchens should be equipped with a fully charged fire extinguisher, Hilderbrand said.

Always cook with a lid beside the pan being used on the stove. If a fire occurs in the pot, slide the lid over the pan and turn the burner off.

By doing this, the oxygen and heat source is being removed from the situation, which will cause the fire to die, Leo said.

The key to suffocating the fire this way is to calmy take action, Hilderbrand said.

Do not remove the cover because the fire could start again. Let the pan cool for a long time.

“If the fire does not go out or you don’t feel comfortable sliding a lid over the pan, get everyone out of your home and call 911,” Hilderbrand said.

Water should never be thrown on a cooking fire, especially when grease or oil is involved.

“Once you put water on a grease fire it is going to explode and make matters way worse,” Leo said. “It will burn you and the kitchen.”

It also is not recommended to throw baking soda, flour, salt or any other pantry items on a fire in hopes it will suffocate it. Leo said these old wives’ tales can cause more harm than good.

“Any product that you use to smother any kind of flame could possibly contribute to the fire,” she said. “Do yourself a favor and leave those things on the shelf.”

If a fire starts inside the oven, the best course of action is to turn the oven off and keep the door closed, she said. Doing this will cause the fire to run out of oxygen forcing it to burn itself out.

A few days before the holiday, Leo recommends deep cleaning the oven according to the appliance manufacturer’s instructions. This will ensure all food debris is removed.

Also, do not use the oven for storage as a general safety precaution.

Additional safety tips

Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services strongly encourages anyone wanting to deep fry a turkey to weigh the hazards and reconsider.

“We recommend you purchase a deep-fried turkey from a commercial restaurant that has the ability to fry the turkeys properly,” Leo said. “We don’t recommend attempting to fry a turkey at home. It’s just easier and safer to purchase it.”

Many safety concerns revolve around the hot oil involved in deep frying something.

“A lot of people don’t take into account the weight displacement that occurs when deep frying a turkey,” she said. “Instead of the turkey taking up the anticipated volume, it usually takes up more and the oil will overflow down onto the open flame at the bottom.”

If the turkey isn’t properly thawed before deep frying it also can become a fire hazard.

“People will try to deep fry the turkey when there is still frost on it. When you put water or ice in the vat of hot oil it will bubble up and could overflow,” she said. “It’s just very, very dangerous.”

With many guests bringing dishes in slow cookers and other small heating appliances, it can be tempting to plug all of them into a power strip for ease of use. However, Hilderbrand advises against this.

“Any appliance – especially high-wattage appliances that have a heat producing element – must be plugged directly into the wall. This is the safest way,” he said. “No power strips, surge protectors or anything like that. You could overload the circuit and it will heat up, eventually it could melt the wire and catch on fire.”

Keep children safe

With so many Families gathering together for the holiday, children may be in the kitchen more than usual. Leo said it is best for parents to have an activity planned for children so they are kept busy outside the kitchen while the adults are cooking. Doing this will keep children out of harm’s way when it comes to scalds and burns, she said.

“Kids are always going to have that natural curiosity of ‘what’s mom doing? What’s dad doing?’ because the food smells good or they want to help,” Hilderbrand said. “If the kids are helping in the kitchen, it’s important to make sure the handles of pots and pans are turned in toward the stove.”

If there is a fire concern, Families are urged to call 911. Members of Fort Campbell Fire and Emergency Services are professionals and experts in their craft, Hilderbrand said.

“This is what we train for,” he said. “The crews will have equipment that will see what you cannot. Anytime you have even the smallest fire, please call 911. It just makes things a lot safer. It’s a lot easier if we just come out there and safety check everything.”

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