November 24th, 2010
07:12 PM ET

Keeping safe in the kitchen: From smoke alarms to goggles

The leading cause of Thanksgiving fires is residential cooking, FEMA says.

Amid all the shopping and chopping and cooking and baking tonight and tomorrow, followed by more preparation for Black Friday, fire prevention probably isn't at the forefront of most people's minds going into the holiday weekend.

But it should be, according to the U.S. Fire Administration, who says the leading cause of all Thanksgiving fires is cooking in the home.

An estimated 2,000 fires occur each on Thanksgiving in the United States, resulting in an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property loss each year, said the agency, an entity of the Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Fires occur most frequently from noon to 4 p.m., prime time for roasting turkeys/tofurkeys, boiling potatoes and vegetables and baking pies. Smoke alarms were not present in 20 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires that occurred in occupied residential buildings, the agency said.

So, what to do? Make sure your smoke alarms work, which I'm sure you already do, as a practical matter of everyday life. And here are a few more tips that may seem like common sense, but are always good to be reminded of:

- Keep a close watch on your cooking. You should never leave cooking food unattended.

- Keep oven food packaging and other combustibles away from burners and heat sources.

- Heat cooking oil slowly and watch it closely; it can ignite quickly.

- Don't wear loose sleeves while working over hot stove burners. They can melt, ignite or catch on handles of pots and pans.

- Have a "kid-free zone" of at least three-feet around the stove and areas where hot foods or drinks are prepared or carried.

- Keep a lid nearby to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stovetop. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.

And, if you must deep fry a turkey, which is basically not recommended in good faith by any fire safety or prevention agency, remember to wear your goggles, keep children and pets far, far away, and this stuff, too:

- Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other flammable materials.

- Never use turkey fryers in a garage or on a wooden deck.

- 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 the fryer 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. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.

- Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and be careful with marinades.

- Oil and water do not mix, and water causes oil to spill over causing a fire or even an explosion hazard.

- The National Turkey Federation (NTF) recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours for every five pounds in weight.

- Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. If the fire is manageable, use your all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call the fire department for help.

Source: United States Fire Administration

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Filed under: Child safety • Food • Holidays • Thanksgiving • U.S.
soundoff (19 Responses)
  1. Marco

    We did decide to try the turkey fryer this year, and we did buy the safest one, this piece was very informative and helpful, thanx, Beat it.

    November 24, 2010 at 9:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stew Burner

      You read the article, make sure you read the instructions with your turkey fryer. Few follow the directions explicitly which is what causes the problems with those dangerous devices (when not used properly). You've already bested most of the crowd.

      My brother-in-law sets one of those portable kiddy fences around his fryer and only uses it outdoors away from the house (not in the garage like some do). If he were to have a fire he could simply allow it to burn out.

      November 25, 2010 at 4:54 am | Report abuse |
    • iceaxdave

      Watch the on-line video of a guy burning his house down by improperly using a turkey fryer...You will throw yours away.

      November 25, 2010 at 9:21 am | Report abuse |
  2. Pitt Cairn

    The only thing fried at our Thanksgiving is my brother-in-law!

    November 24, 2010 at 10:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Todd A

    This story contains some BS statements. Every turkey fryer I have ever seen as well as the 2 I have used have had temperature controls. True, you do not want toi leave it unattended, but after close to 10 years of frying turkeys, I haven't burnt anything or lost a house yet.

    November 24, 2010 at 10:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nathan


      Unfortunately, your statement about turkey cookers ALL having thermostats is incorrect. Typically the "el cheapo" fryers that the average person will buy in Wal%&@# and other retailers don't have a thermostat to control the flame. Most are a stand, burner, pot and cooking thermometer. The temperature is controlled by human intervention.

      The biggest safety suggestion is to fry the turkey OFF of you deck. Put it in the driveway or in the yard. If it boils over and flames the deck you can lose the house!

      November 25, 2010 at 8:34 am | Report abuse |
  4. Todd A

    Marco, which one would that be? Which is the safest one?

    November 24, 2010 at 10:52 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Russell

    I am surprized some anbulance chasing lawyers havent aired a ad on TV to file a suit if you have been burned or you were stupid enough to burn down you house or garage.

    November 24, 2010 at 11:51 pm | Report abuse |
  6. jahenders

    Standard sensational journalism. They tell us there are 2000 fires a year on Thanksgiving and then tell us all the things to watch out for. However, they choose not to tell us what the average number of fires a day is, so there is no scale to the "problem" - we could average 1999 fires a day, 2, or 10,000. Based on the non-information in this story, Thanksgiving COULD be the safest day of the year.

    November 24, 2010 at 11:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      LOL – so true.

      Like the old saying goes, 80% of statistics are misleading and the other 20% are misunderstood by 90% of the people.

      November 25, 2010 at 12:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Tom

      They also say that 62.7% of all statistics are made up.

      November 25, 2010 at 9:28 am | Report abuse |
  7. emptytalk

    No context, no statistical comparsion to other days, more useless "journalism" by CNN

    November 25, 2010 at 12:41 am | Report abuse |
  8. kellen

    I wear goggles in the kitchen.

    November 25, 2010 at 3:51 am | Report abuse |
  9. edwardjs

    Thanksgiving means 2,000 fires yearly... What the heck does YEARLY mean... are we talking about Thanksgiving Day or all yearly...???? somebodys hitting the eggnog hard already...

    November 25, 2010 at 4:03 am | Report abuse |
  10. brunsk42

    God i hope homeland security dosn't read this, they'll try and put a halt to thanksgiving

    November 25, 2010 at 4:22 am | Report abuse |
  11. Bob

    I think we need a new political committee panel to curb this national security issue. It's a huge risk to americans that could lead to dozens of deaths over something so preventable such as turkey fryers.

    We should have inspections of every turkey fryer involved and anybody who says otherwise is either just ignorant or living in a fantasy world where rights are handed out like candy. We could prevent an entire hundred deaths here this season along with such intelligent security measures, support it if you've got nothing to hide.

    November 25, 2010 at 5:24 am | Report abuse |
  12. Allan

    Statistics are like a bikini.... what they show is very interesting, but what they conceal is vital.

    November 25, 2010 at 9:12 am | Report abuse |
  13. Andy

    If you are not in the kitchen awake and alert you should not have the stove on.

    – A

    November 25, 2010 at 9:30 am | Report abuse |
  14. Cesar

    I've always had oven baked turkey. I hope to try deep fried turkey. This reminds me of a Daffy Duck cartoon and a turkey. The turkey was fat and juicy. Days before Thanksgiving Daffy Duck told him he would be roasted duck, unless he lost 20 lbs fast. So the turkey listened to Daffy Duck. He lifted weights, exercised, did laps. Then days before Thanksgiving, out came a man with a sword. He saw that the turkey was much too skinny, so then he looked @ plump juicy duck-Daffy duck. Daffy said,"Why are you looking at me like that? Get away!" And Daffy ran for his life. The turkey stayed slim and lived to 94 in turkey years.

    November 25, 2010 at 10:04 am | Report abuse |