Some steps to avoid Thanksgiving going up in smoke, flames

It’s that time of year when people get themselves fired up to cook — and the State Fire Marshal puts out the call for caution while laboring on that the Thanksgiving feast.

Thanksgiving Day is the leading day for home cooking fires, State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer advised. In particular, the popularity of deep fryers for turkey has added a new risk.

Portable propane-fueled turkey fryers, while a faster cooking method, poses a considerable fire risk if not done correctly, Sehlmeyer said.

“Incorrect methods of deep frying a turkey in several gallons of hot oil over 350 degrees is as flammable as gasoline if the cooking oil vapors ignite,” Sehlmeyer said. “Never use a portable deep fryer in a garage, on or under a deck, breezeway, porch or inside any structure. Improperly deep frying turkeys can be dangerous and accounts for the high number of house and garage fires reported each year.”

Care must be used to not overfill the cooking oil in a portable deep fryer or you will get splash-back and boil over when immersing the turkey. Grease fires commonly start when cooking oil spilling over the sides of the fryer onto the flames below. If rain or snow hits the hot cooking oil, the cooking oil may splatter or turn to steam that can lead to burns.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, portable deep fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for acceptably safe use by even well-informed and careful consumers. Sehlmeyer suggested an oil-less electric or infrared fryer as a safer alternative.

But if determined to use that portable propane deep fryer, safety precautions to take include:

— Read and follow the manufacturer’s user guide.

— Always use the portable deep fryer on a flat surface, well away from houses, garages, decks, trees, bushes and other outdoor hazards.

— Use a portable deep fryer with a gas valve controller.

— Make sure your turkey is completely thawed and dry the turkey before putting it in the fryer. Extra water or placing a frozen turkey in the fryer will cause the cooking oil to bubble and spill over.

— Never leave the portable deep fryer unattended.

— Keep children and pets away from the portable deep fryer.

— Allow at least 2 feet of space between the liquid propane tank and the portable deep fryer burner.

— Only use cooking oil recommended by the deep fryer manufacturer. Cooking oils can have different ignition temperatures when heated.

— Do not overfill the portable deep fryer with cooking oil — that can cause an overflow and flash fire when immersing the turkey.

— Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts, as the deep fryer lid and handle can become very hot; wear safety goggles to protect eyes from cooking oil splatter.

— Be careful with marinades. Cooking oil and water do not mix; water causes the oil to boil up and spill over, which can result in a fire or even an explosion hazard.

— If the cooking oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the propane tank off by closing the propane tank valve.

— Keep a dry powder fire extinguisher ready at all times. Never — repeat, never — use water to extinguish a cooking oil or grease fire.

While safer, the old-fashioned route of cooking in the kitchen has its own risks, Sehlmeyer said.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the average number of reported residential fires more than doubles on Thanksgiving Day.

“Always keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it,” Sehlmeyer said. “If you don’t know how to use a fire extinguisher, don’t try and fight a fire yourself. Immediately call 911 in such emergencies and quickly evacuate your family and friends out of the home.”

He added, “Unattended cooking is the leading cause of residential fires, especially on Thanksgiving when busy cooks can be distracted. Never leave cooking unattended, not even for a second.”

Cooking fires also can be prevented by:

— Starting with a clean stove and oven.

— Removing food and grease buildup from burners, stovetop and oven.

— Turning pot handles toward the back of the stove to avoid pot tipping by young children.

— Wearing short sleeves or roll sleeves up, so clothing can’t catch on fire during cooking.

— Checking food regularly while it’s simmering, baking, boiling or roasting.

— Setting timers to keep track of turkeys and other foods that require extended cooking times.

— Turning off the stove if you must leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time.

— Keeping children away from cooking areas; do not hold children while cooking.

— Keeping kitchen clutter, potholders, towels and food wrappers well away from the stove burners.

— Keeping a pan lid or cookie sheet nearby; always use an oven mitt.

— For an oven fire, turn off the oven and keep the door closed.

The Bureau of Fire Services wishes everyone a safe and happy Thanksgiving. For more fire safety information, go to