Home fires jump by 350% on Thanksgiving compared to a typical day. Learn how to prevent Thanksgiving kitchen fires with tips from safety experts.

By Karla Walsh
November 16, 2020
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With so many more people using cooking equipment on holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, the risk of fire and related injury is significantly higher than other days of the year: Three times as many fires happen on Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas is the second worst day of the year for kitchen fires.

“Cooking is the leading cause of home fires and home fire injuries year-round, and the second-leading cause of home fire deaths," says Susan McKelvey, a communications manager for the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy, Massachusetts. 

U.S. fire departments responded to about 1,630 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving Day in 2019.

McKelvey and Sharon Cooksey, a Mebane, North Carolina-based fire safety educator with Kidde (a manufacturer of smoke alarms and fire extinguishers) had these tips to keep calm and cook on—flame-free.

Credit: Rattankun Thongbun/Getty Images

7 Tips to Reduce the Risk for Thanksgiving Kitchen Fires

We know the beeping can be annoying, but a smoke alarm can potentially save your life in the event of a home fire. Whatever you do, don’t disable your smoke alarms while cooking or remove your batteries if your alarm goes off, Cookset says. To avoid false alarms while staying protected, install alarms 10 feet from appliances and choose one designed specifically for kitchens, such as the Google Nest Smoke and Carbon Monoxide Alarm($119, Bed Bath & Beyond).

Then follow this guidance to help lower your risk for cooking-related fires.

 1. Stay Focused

It can be easy to get distracted in the kitchen on the big day, with the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade online to excited kids running around to many dishes to juggle at once. But McKelvey says it’s vital to keep your eyes on the prize, if you will—the prize being anything cooking over heat. 

“Never leave the kitchen while cooking on the stovetop. Some types of cooking, especially those that involve frying or sautéing with oil, need continuous attention,” she says. “When cooking a turkey, stay in your home and check on it regularly. Make use of timers to keep track of cooking times, particularly for foods that require longer cook times.”

2. Dress Wisely

Form-fitting apparel is probably the last thing you want to wear while eating the feast, but during your shift of cooking, avoid donning any billowy or loose clothing. Fabric that’s far from the body could catch fire from an oven burner or other heat source, Cooksey says, and if you do happen to have long sleeves, push them up. 

“Keep other items like potholders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, and towels clear of the cooking area,” she says.

3. Say Farewell to the Fryer 

The NFPA strongly discourages the use of turkey fryers, as these can lead to severe burns, injuries and property damage. Instead, if you’re planning to serve a deep-fried turkey, look for grocery stores, food retailers and restaurants that sell them pre-fried, McKelvey says.

If you must use a turkey fryer, use it outside of your home, and use extreme caution to prevent burns and other injuries. Never put a frozen turkey (even if it’s partially thawed) in a turkey fryer, as it can cause the hot oil to splatter and cause a fire, Cooksey says. 

4. Don’t Overwhelm Your Outlets

“Overloading wall outlets or power strips may cause an electrical fire. Also, ensure that your cords aren’t frayed or have bare wires, which could present a fire hazard as well,” Cooksey says.

The NFPA recommends using one cord per receptacle outlet, McKelvey says, so aim to space things out if you’re managing several slow cooker Thanksgiving recipes while using your toaster oven, blender, hand mixer, or other plug-in countertop appliances. 

5. Keep the Kitchen a Pet- and Kid-Free Zone as Much as Possible

Yes, there are a lot of moving parts in most kitchens on Thanksgiving, from cocktail-mixing to cheese board assembly to bread baking and more. But as much as possible, keep your kitchen clutter-free and move any decorations, papers, food packaging or cleaning supplies at least three feet from any cooking area, McKelvey says.

This “safe zone” also holds true for your little ones and furry friends. 

“Curious kids and pets can accidentally turn on stove knobs or other appliances, or knock over pots and pans. Nearly 1,000 home fires are started by family pets each year,” Cooksey says. 

If you can’t keep your cats, dogs and kids out of the kitchen, “get in the habit of turning your pot handles inward so they don’t get knocked over, and pay careful attention to objects such as stove knobs and hot appliances that can be turned on by curious kids or pets,” Cooksey adds.

6. Pre-Clean Your Equipment

Before you start preparing any part of your Thanksgiving menu, “make sure your oven and other cooking appliances and equipment are clean and in good working order,” McKelvey says.

Deep clean your oven—and toaster oven or indoor grill, griddle, slow cooker, air fryer or pressure cooker, for that matter... [of] crumbs or leftover grease, Cooksey suggests. Check to confirm that you have a kitchen fire extinguisher on hand and that you know how to use it, and always keep it behind you while cooking (rather than in a cabinet, a closet or the garage) so you don’t have to reach over flames to get to if needed. 

7. Keep Cool if a Fire Does Break Out

If you spy a fire inside the oven, do not open the door. Turn off the oven and allow the contents to cool off before cleaning it.

“If flames do escape the oven, evacuate your home and call 911 immediately,” Cooksey says. “In the event you have a grease fire on the stove, don’t move the pot or pan. Extinguish it in place. Ideally, use a kitchen fire extinguisher to extinguish the flames, but if you don’t have one, use a lid or cookie sheet to safely smother the flames and don’t remove it.” 

At that point, turn off the burner and let the pan completely cool. Never throw water on a grease fire, as it can make the fire grow. And, despite what grandma may have told you, don’t use flour, sugar or salt, either. Baking soda is suitable, but sprinkling this on top might force you to get too close to the fire to douse the flames, Cooksey says. If you can’t contain the fire, evacuate your home and call 911 immediately.

“Of course, fire hazards are present outside of the kitchen, too, and it’s important to keep these top of mind as colder weather approaches,” Cooksey adds.

To make your abode as safe as possible, have your fireplace cleaned and inspected annually, and clean the area surrounding the fireplace of anything flammable. A yearly furnace inspection is wise, too. After Thanksgiving, December is the peak month of the year for candle fires, so if you light candles, keep them far away from flammable items, kids and pets, and always blow them out when you leave a room. Or for your safest bet, Cooksey recommends using flameless candles like these Made By Design 3-inch x 5-inch Vanilla-Scented LED Pillar Candles ($26 for four; Target).

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