Officials urge fire prevention over Thanksgiving, winter months

VIDEO: Frying a turkey can quickly lead to disaster

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - Thanksgiving Day is the most dangerous day for cooking fires, with three times as many fires normally reported in an average day, state insurance officials say.

"Being cautious and using your cooking appliances as directed will go a long way towards helping avoid losses and keep your family safe this holiday season," Russ Dubisky, executive director of the South Carolina Insurance News Service, said.

Here are some safety tips for indoor cooking:

  • Remain in the kitchen when frying, grilling or broiling food. Unattended cooking is by far the leading factor in kitchen fires.
  • If you must leave home for even a short time, turn off the stove or oven.
  • Whether simmering, baking, boiling or roasting food, check it regularly. Use a timer to remind you the stove or oven is on.
  • Keep things that burn – including pot holders, oven mitts, paper or plastic, away from the stove.
  • Check the inside of the oven before you turn it on. Don’t store things that can burn in an oven, microwave or toaster oven.
  • Clean food and grease off burners, stove tops and ovens.
  • Wear clothing with sleeves that are short, close fitting or tightly rolled up.
  • Use the stove’s back burners when possible, and turn pot handles inward to reduce the risk that pots with hot contents will be knocked over.

If you're frying a turkey, keep these tips in mind:

  • Always fry turkeys outside, away from any structure and on a hard, flat surface, preferably on concrete. Never cook on a wooden porch or deck, as the wood can catch fire if oil spills. Never cook in a garage, breezeway or carport.
  • Make sure the turkey is fully thawed before putting it into the oil.
  • Allow the oil to thoroughly cool before emptying. Hot oil can take 3 to 4 hours to cool to room temperature.
  • Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby.

If you have a cooking fire:

  • Use a lid – kept nearby -- to smother small grease fires. Smother the fire by sliding the lid over the pan and turn off the stove top. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled.
  • For an oven fire, turn off the heat and keep the door closed.
  • Never use water to extinguish a grease fire.
  • If you try to fight the fire, make sure others get out and you have a clear way out. Remember, three of every five people hurt in cooking fires were injured when they tried to put the fire out themselves.
  • When in doubt, just get out! Close the door behind you to contain the fire.
  • Call 911 after you get outside.

But while cooking equipment is a leading cause of most home fires, there are other hazards that need to be considered on Thanksgiving Day and beyond. The South Carolina State Fire Marshal says last year there were 27 fires and 36 fire deaths during the winter months.

Heating, like cooking, is a leading cause of house fires. Chief Bert Polk, the state's fire marshal, says families who use an oven or space heater should never leave the room in which they are operating until the devices are turned off. If using a fireplace, Polk says flames should be out before everyone leaves the room.

And while open flames pose a major risk, Polk says the smallest members of the family can as well.

"Fire and flame is a captivating thing for children," Polk says. "And it's really amazing how many fires are started or caused by someone poking around in the fireplace and then all of the sudden a log rolls out onto the carpet, up against a piece of upholstered furniture, then we have a fire."

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