Directorate of Communication and Public Affairs
U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center
Ovens and stoves nationwide will soon be working overtime as household chefs feverishly prepare their favorite holiday recipes. While the end result for many will be a feast fit for a king, some will experience a very different — and tragic — outcome.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, an estimated 2,000 Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings are reported to U.S. fire departments each year, resulting in an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and about $21 million in property damage. Cooking is the leading cause of these fires, which occur at a rate of three times the normal daily average.
"Thanksgiving can be a whirlwind of cooking and entertaining guests," said Lorraine Carli, vice president, Outreach and Advocacy, National Fire Protection Agency. "With so much multitasking taking place, fire hazards around the oven or stovetop can easily be overlooked. Cooks should be conscious of fire safety this Thanksgiving, whether the menu is meant to serve two or 20."
In addition to Thanksgiving, both Christmas Eve and Christmas Day also have an increased incidence of cooking fires. Fortunately, these mishaps are preventable by taking a few simple precautions.
With unattended cooking being the most common cause of kitchen fires, the NFPA urges cooks to stay put when frying, grilling or broiling food. If you must leave the kitchen, turn off the stove first. When simmering, baking, roasting or boiling food, check it regularly and use a timer as a reminder that something is cooking. It’s also a good idea to keep combustibles such as potholders, towels, drapes and rags clear of the cooking area.
In the event of a cooking fire, the most important step is to get to safety, closing the door behind you to help contain the fire. If you attempt to fight the flames, ensure everyone else gets out of the house safely and that you have a clear path for your escape. Once safe, have someone call local emergency responders.
For small grease fires, smother the flames with a lid, which should be kept nearby, and then turn off the burner. Leave the pan on the burner and do not remove the lid until it has cooled. Never attempt to extinguish a grease fire with water, which can cause the grease to splatter and the flames to spread out of control.
Frank McClanahan, director of the U.S. Army Combat Readiness/Safety Center’s Civilian Injury Prevention Directorate, recommends keeping a multi-purpose fire extinguisher rated for both grease and electrical fires in the kitchen and learning how to use it properly. McClanahan said the extinguisher should be within easy reach in the event of a fire.
"Extinguishers are an important part of a fire prevention program," McClanahan said. "When used properly, they can save lives and property by putting out small fires or controlling them until the professionals arrive."
The NFPA also urges homeowners to install smoke detectors throughout the residence and develop an emergency escape plan. Replace smoke detector batteries at least once a year and practice the escape plan biannually so everyone knows what to do in the event of a fire or other emergency.
The last thing anyone expects when preparing a holiday meal is a fire. Yet, time and again, lives and homes are lost and holidays ruined by cooking-related blazes. This and every holiday season, Carli reminds cooks to include a dash of fire safety into their holiday recipes.
"Incorporating fire safety into your holiday preparations can mean the difference between putting on a fantastic holiday feast for family and friends or having to call the fire department to put out a fire," Carli said. "As much as unexpected guests are sometimes a part of the holidays, you don’t want the fire department arriving because your feast is going up in flames."