Los Angeles County fire inspector David Michel loves his Thanksgiving traditions as much as the next person.
So dramatic, in fact, that Thanksgiving Day and the day before, with their distractions in and out of the kitchen, are among the worst days of the year for home-cooking fires. Nearly four times as many of the fires occur on Thanksgiving as on a typical day, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
The biggest reason for the 1,570 Thanksgiving Day cooking fires in 2016 was unattended stovetop cooking — particularly frying — that led to one-third of the fires. The day before Thanksgiving, with its 690 cooking fires, was the fourth-worst day.
Michel, a nearly 13-year veteran of the LA County Fire Department who started as a firefighter in 2006, delivers a stern safety warning about that biggest issue.
“You don’t want to ever leave cooking unattended,” said Michel. “If you’re leaving for a quick errand, the best thing to do is shut off the stove or the oven. But do not leave food cooking unattended inside the house.”
Calling oil and grease buildup on the stovetop and in the oven a problem too, he is just as keen on being prepared in the event of a fire, “always encouraging people to have a fire extinguisher and working smoke detectors on hand.”
And if there’s no fire extinguisher?
“If you have an oil or grease fire, you don’t want to ever put water on it,” said Michel, adding that baking soda can put out small cooking fires as well. “If it’s in a pan, you just want to put a top on it and turn off the burner since fire requires air to grow. Once you take the oxygen away, it’ll smother itself out.”
Fire and injury risks are also presented by other electrical hazards on a day when an estimated 88 percent of Americans eat turkey and home fires lead to an average of five fatalities, 25 injuries and $19 million in property damage.
Damaged appliance and extension cords are chief among them.
“Anything with damaged cords should be replaced immediately,” said Andrew S. Martinez, vice president of Safety, Security and Business Resiliency at Southern California Edison. “They are a fire risk, and they no longer offer protection to families from shock or serious injury.”
There are other electrical hazards, and SCE offers additional tips on enjoying your Thanksgiving safely:
- Do not overload extension cords, do not connect two extension cords to extend their length and never place them in pinched positions.
- Never plug more than one large appliance like a refrigerator into an outlet and never plug large appliances into extension cords.
- Plug all countertop appliances into ground fault circuit interrupter outlets.
- Keep electrical cords from traffic areas to prevent trips and falls.
- Keep children at least 3 feet away from the stove and keep electrical cords from dangling off the counter within easy reach of children and pets.
- As for turkey fryers, the fire association still discourages them, and Underwriters Laboratories (UL) still refuses to certify them.
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