It's very nearly time for Thanksgiving, which means it's also time for me to send out my annual cooking safety reminders. We all want to focus on the best
parts of the holidays (family... food...), and that means focusing for a moment on the worst parts so we can avoid them.
According to the National Fire Protection Association:
- Cooking is the leading cause of fires in the home, causing 48% of all home fires and leading to 21% of the deaths and 45% of the injuries caused by fires
in the home.
- Unattended cooking is a factor in one-third of all home cooking fires and half of the associated deaths.
- Finally, Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires (not really surprising is it?), followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.
Avoiding cooking fires in general
- Stay in the kitchen while you're frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food.
- Use a timer when roasting your turkey or baking those delicious desserts. That way, you can get as involved in family celebrations as you like
without having to worry about overcooking the turkey (or worse, setting it on fire!).
- Do not use the stove if you are sleepy or have already gotten into the holiday spirit with some holiday spirits.
- Keep all flammable materials away from your stovetop... except the things you're deliberately heating.
- Keep a lid or cookie sheet near the stove so it’s quick to hand to smother any fire that starts.
- Turn pot handles away from the front of the stove so they can't be bumped accidentally while you're moving around the kitchen or grabbed by
- Speaking of... Thanksgiving is a time for family, but please keep young children out of the kitchen when you're cooking or monitor them
closely. Little hands are invariably curious and hot pans are strangely attractive.
Now... if you want to know what to do if the above tips fail and a fire starts... or if you'd like more specific advice for preventing certain kinds of
cooking fires, read on for tips for avoiding and responding to various types of cooking fires.
Fighting microwave and oven fires in four easy steps
- Keep the door closed.
- Turn off the appliance.
- Let the fire burn completely out in the closed space.
- No peeking!
What you’re doing here is starving the fire of oxygen. Opening the door before the fire is fully out will allow it to rekindle, which it may do
with a roar.
Fighting stovetop fires in three easy steps
- Always pull out a lid for the pot or pan you’re going to be cooking in or a cookie sheet large enough to completely cover it.
- If a fire starts, cover the flames with the lid or cookie sheet.
- No peeking!
Again, this starves the fire of oxygen, putting it out.
Oil or grease fires
Avoiding these fires
- Heat the oil slowly.
- Keep oil at the temperature recommended in your recipe. If you see any smoke or the oil starts to smell, it's gotten too hot. Immediately turn
off the heat source to let it cool down.
- Remove as much moisture as possible from food before putting it in hot oil. Do not put frozen foods directly into hot grease.
- Add food gently to prevent spatter.
Fighting oil or grease fires in six easy steps
- Cover with a metal lid or cookie sheet. No peeking! To prevent rekindling, leave the pot covered until it's cooled.
- Turn off the heat source.
- If the fire is small and manageable, you can try pouring baking soda or salt on it to smother it. Do not use flour, baking powder, or other cooking powders -- they may look similar but have a distinctly different chemical makeup and will make the
fire worse. (Ask me about the time I scorched the kitchen cabinets as a teenager because I couldn't remember which white powder I should put on a grease fire and decided on flour.)
- Do not try to extinguish the fire with water. This will spatter the oil, spreading
- If smothering the fire doesn't work, spray it with a Class B fire extinguisher. Most home extinguishers are ABC (meaning they're good for
fires of type A-ordinary combustibles, B-flammable liquids, and C-electrical), but check the label on the one in your kitchen (you do have a fire extinguisher in your kitchen, don't you?) to verify.
- Do not attempt to move the pot or pan outside. Fires send adrenaline surging through our bodies and make our hands too shaky to safely
carry an oil-filled pan even a short distance, and you risk spilling burning oil inside your house. This would turn a somewhat-contained fire into a very-much-not-contained fire, making things much, much worse.
Know when to call for help
Regardless of the size of the fire or whether you believe you can fight it yourself, call 911
immediately. You can always tell us to stand down if you’re able to extinguish the fire before we get there (though we may insist on coming anyway so we can play with... ahem, use our thermal
imaging camera to verify there aren't any hidden hotspots that might still pose a threat). Plus, if it turns out you’re unable to put the fire out, you want us there as quickly as physically
possible. On average, house fires double in size every thirty seconds, and because the plastics we now use in our homes and furnishings burn hotter and faster than natural materials, a modern house
can become fully involved in as little as five minutes. A fully involved house fire is one where the fire, heat, and smoke have spread so widely throughout the house that it's no longer possible to
safely attack the fire directly. At that point, our only option is to fight a defensive battle to extinguish the fire from outside the house and prevent it from spreading to the surrounding
In addition, even when fires can be extinguished by the homeowner, 60% of the non-fatal
injuries suffered in home cooking fires occur when the victim tries to fight the fire themselves. Meaning you may no longer need help with the fire but still need medical care. The most common
injuries sustained are burns to the hands and lower arms. So call us -- everyone's safer if we're already on our way.
If a fire starts in your house (from any cause):
- GET OUT! Gather up your family members and leave immediately. If the fire is small and you think you can extinguish it yourself, send everyone
else out, make one attempt, and leave at once if your attempt doesn’t show immediate success.
- Close the doors as you leave to help contain the fire. Interior doors make a surprisingly effective barrier against fire, sometimes even
confining damage to the room where the fire started. Closing exterior doors and windows limits the amount of oxygen reaching the fire and slows its spread.
- If you didn’t call while evacuating, call 911 as soon as you are a safe distance from the house.
- Do not re-enter your home for any reason. Conditions will not have improved and
you’re likely to be injured or killed.
From all of us to all of you: Happy Thanksgiving!