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State fire marshal urges safety over Thanksgiving

State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer urges fire safety by encouraging Michiganders to follow a few simple precautions when preparing their meal on Thanksgiving Day, the leading day for home cooking fires.

Consumers who use portable deep fryers to cook turkeys should know the dangers involved and consider a safer alternative to cook their turkey. Portable propane-fueled turkey fryers — a popular and faster cooking method for Thanksgiving turkeys — pose considerable fire risk if not used correctly.

Deep frying a turkey — in several gallons of hot oil above 350 degrees — is as flammable as gasoline if the cooking oil vapors ignite, Sehlmeyer said. Never use a portable deep fryer in a garage, near a deck, breezeway, porch or inside any structure; improperly deep-frying turkeys result in a high number of house and garage fires every year.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, or NFPA, portable deep fryers that use oil as currently designed are not suitable for safe use, even by well-informed and careful consumers. Vapors coming off the heated cooking oil are highly combustible. If the cooking oil in a portable deep fryer is overfilled, splash-back and boil-over may occur when immersing the turkey. A video at https://youtu.be/kjUynq0HXdQ demonstrates how dangerous these turkey fryers can be.

Sehlmeyer said oil-less electric or infrared models are much safer methods of cooking turkeys, provided safety precautions are carefully followed:

— Use a portable deep fryer with a gas valve controller; read and follow the manufacturer’s user guide.

— Always use the portable deep fryer on a flat surface, far away from houses, garages, decks, trees, bushes and other flammable material.

— Make sure the turkey is completely thawed and dried before putting it in the fryer.

— Never leave the portable deep fryer unattended; keep children and pets away.

— Keep the liquid propane tank at least 2 feet away from the portable deep fryer burner.

— Only use cooking oil recommended by the fryer manufacturer.

— Do not overfill the portable deep fryer with cooking oil — it may result in the overflow of the cooking oil and a 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 oil splatter.

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

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

Cooking in the kitchen has its own fire risks. According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the average number of reported residential fires more than doubles on Thanksgiving Day compared with any other day of the year.

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, do not try to fight a fire yourself; immediately call 911 in such emergencies and quickly evacuate the home.

Unattended cooking is the second-leading cause of residential fires in Michigan, especially on Thanksgiving when cooks can be distracted. Cooking should never be left unattended; cooking fires can easily be prevented by following a few simple precautions:

— Start with a clean stove and oven; remove food and grease buildup from burners, stovetop and oven.

— Turn pot handles toward the back of the stove to prevent pot tipping by young children.

— Wear short sleeves or roll sleeves up; check food regularly while it’s simmering, baking, boiling or roasting.

— Set timers to keep track of extended cooking times.

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

— Keep kitchen clutter — potholders, towels, food wrappers, etc. — well away from the burners.

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

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

For more fire safety information, go to the Bureau of Fire Services website at www.michigan.gov/miprevention.

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