Northwest Arkansas firefighters ask all to be careful in the kitchen

Thanksgiving worst day for fires

Posted: November 23, 2017 at 1:07 a.m.

Centerton firefighters put away their equipment April 7 after working a house fire in Centerton. The fire began in the kitchen where the resident was cooking, causing extensive damage. Fire departments gets slightly more kitchen and cooking related calls during the holidays, said Thomas Good assistant chief with the Fayetteville Fire Department. Good said one of the most common causes of house fires he sees is food left cooking unattended.

Many kitchens today will be filled with the aroma of turkey and homemade pies, children scampering around and family members chattering. In the midst of all the festivities, it's important to keep safety in mind to prevent fires and injuries, Northwest Arkansas firefighters said.

U.S. fire departments handled about 1,760 home cooking fires in 2015 on Thanksgiving, the peak day for such fires.

Safety Tips

The following tips can help reduce the risk of cooking fires.

• Stay in the kitchen when you are using the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food.

• Stay alert and focused. To help minimize the risk of injury, avoid cooking when drinking alcohol or if you’re sleepy.

• Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.

• Use a timer to keep track of cooking times, most notably when cooking a meal that takes a long time like roasting a turkey, baking a roast or simmering. Consider putting timers in different rooms so you can hear them over the music and party chatter.

• Keep things that can catch fire like oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers and towels away from the cooking area.

• Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.

• Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.

• Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, purses or bags.

• Keep knives out of the reach of children.

• Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.

• Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children. Put up high in a locked cabinet.

• Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle.

• Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

• Have an exit plan, should a fire occur.

Source: National Fire Protection Association

Thomas Good, assistant chief with the Fayetteville Fire Department said one of the most common causes of house fires he sees is food left cooking unattended.

The department gets slightly more kitchen and cooking related calls during the holidays, Good said.

"People who normally don't cook much are trying to cook more," he said. "Remember to be attentive to what you're doing. Don't try to do too much."

Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said holiday fires can be more tragic, because large groups of people are packed into a home where they may not be familiar with all the exits.

"For the Fire Department, this is the time of year that we are on edge a little bit because we understand the added risk," Jenkins said. "Nationwide and locally, the vast majority of our residential fires occur during the winter months, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays."

National House Fire Holiday

U.S. fire departments responded to a yearly average of 170,200 house fires in 2011-2015 that involved cooking equipment. Almost half of house structure fires were caused by cooking, according to the most recent report from the National Fire Protection Association.

Unattended cooking was by far the leading contributing factor in these fires and fire deaths, according to the association's report.

The report says home cooking fires peak on major U.S. holidays that traditionally include cooking, such as Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

"The data suggests that it's often a combination of factors contributing to an increased risk of home cooking fires on Thanksgiving," Lorraine Carli, the fire protection association's vice president of Outreach and Advocacy said in a news release. "People are preparing multiple dishes for many guests and there can be plenty of distraction in the home, which can make it all too easy to forget what's on the stove. That's when cooking mishaps are most likely to occur."

Jumping to Action

More than half, or 55 percent, of reported non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occurred when the person tried to fight the fire themselves, according to the association.

"I've seen a lot of burns and even fire spread from somebody trying to rush a pan that catches on fire outside," Good said.

Jenkins said to get everyone out of the house, call 911 and don't go back into the house.

"My recommendation is to never try to fight a fire," Jenkins said. "If they delay calling us, it usually exacerbates the problem. Let us do our job. The job of the citizen is to just get out."

About 3,000 people die each year in house fires, according to the national association.

"I just think that people need to take fires seriously," Jenkins said.

For those determined to deal with a fire, Good recommends putting a lid over it and having a fire extinguisher on hand.

Cleanliness is a big deal, he said. Stove tops can get grease build up that can ignite and fuel a fire.

Not splashing water on a grease fire is common knowledge, but sometimes people forget, he said.

He commends covering a grease fire with baking soda. However, make sure not to confuse flour for baking soda, Good said.

"Flour is very flammable. Flour will make a very nice ball of fire," he said.

To prevent fires, officials also recommend checking smoke detectors, keeping candles out of the kitchen, not wearing loose sleeves and turning pan handles so children, or anyone, don't knock them and get burned.

Decoration might make for a good photo, but Jenkins said with lots of people around, extra materials crowding the area is a fire hazard.

"A lot of that preparation comes with basic common sense," he said.

It's also important to remember to turn off burners after use.

Good said he remembered an apartment fire last year just north of the University of Arkansas campus where a burner was left on, "which by itself wasn't hurting anything, but they came home and set all the groceries on it."

The Turkey Fryer Debate

Frying a turkey can take three to four minutes per pound. Compared to 20 minutes a pound roasting time, frying can seem like a good idea.

Northwest Arkansas fire department officials and the National Fire Protection Association strongly discourages the use of turkey fryers.

"I've been to several turkey fryer fires that are taking place on the back porch or in a carport. Those are typically very bad because it's a lot of fire that spreads very fast," Good said.

The fryers available for home use pose a significant danger that hot oil will be released at some point during the cooking process. In addition, the burners that heat the oil can ignite spilled oil, according to the association's website.

Misuse of the fryers can cause devastating burns, other injuries and destroy property. The association urged those who prefer fried turkey to seek out professional establishments, such as grocery stores, specialty food retailers and restaurants, for the preparation of the dish or consider a new type of "oil-less" turkey fryer.

Anyone who doesn't believe it, Good said, should search for videos on YouTube.

For people using a turkey fryer, it's recommended they do so in a very open, cleared outdoor space.

The turkey must be completely defrosted. Any ice can cause the oil to explode, Good said.

Jenkins said they're popular and Rogers gets one or two fire calls related to turkey fryers during the holiday season.

Many people will use appliances, such as a turkey fryer, they don't normally use. It comes back down to preparation, Jenkins said.

"Are they an overwhelming risk? Probably not," he said. "It's about education on the right way to use it. While people probably have an idea of how to do it, they should follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Know what you are doing."

NW News on 11/23/2017