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story.lead_photo.caption Centerton firefighters put away their equipment April 7 after working a house fire in Centerton. The fire began in the kitchen where the resident was cooking, causing extensive damage. Fire departments gets slightly more kitchen and cooking related calls during the holidays, said Thomas Good assistant chief with the Fayetteville Fire Department. Good said one of the most common causes of house fires he sees is food left cooking unattended. - Photo by Ben Goff

Many homes today will be filled with the aroma of turkey and homemade pies and the sounds of children playing and family members chatting.

In the midst of all the festivities, it's important to keep safety in mind to prevent fires and injuries, Northwest Arkansas firefighters said.

U.S. fire departments handled about 1,760 cooking-related fires in 2015 on Thanksgiving, the peak day for such fires.

Thomas Good, assistant chief with the Fayetteville Fire Department, said one of the most common causes of house fires is food left cooking unattended.

The department gets slightly more kitchen- and cooking-related calls during the end-of-year holidays, Good said.

"People who normally don't cook much are trying to cook more," he said. "Remember to be attentive to what you're doing. Don't try to do too much."

Rogers Fire Chief Tom Jenkins said holiday fires can be tragic, because large groups of people are packed into a home where they may not be familiar with all the exits.

"For the Fire Department, this is the time of year that we are on edge a little bit because we understand the added risk," Jenkins said. "Nationwide and locally, the vast majority of our residential fires occur during the winter months, especially during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays."

U.S. fire departments responded to a yearly average of 170,200 house fires in 2011-2015 that involved cooking equipment. Almost half of house fires were caused by cooking, according to the most recent report from the National Fire Protection Association.

Unattended cooking was by far the leading contributing factor in these fires and fire deaths, according to the association's report.

The report says home cooking fires peak on major holidays that traditionally include big meals, such as Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"The data suggests that it's often a combination of factors contributing to an increased risk of home cooking fires on Thanksgiving," Lorraine Carli, the fire protection association's vice president of Outreach and Advocacy said in a news release. "People are preparing multiple dishes for many guests and there can be plenty of distraction in the home, which can make it all too easy to forget what's on the stove. That's when cooking mishaps are most likely to occur."

DON'T BE A FIREFIGHTER

More than half, or 55 percent, of reported nonfatal injuries from home cooking fires occurred when people tried to fight a fire themselves, according to the fire protection association.

"I've seen a lot of burns and even fire spread from somebody trying to rush a pan that catches on fire outside," Good said.

Jenkins said to get everyone out of the house, call 911 and don't go back into the house.

"My recommendation is to never try to fight a fire," Jenkins said. "If they delay calling us, it usually exacerbates the problem. Let us do our job. The job of the citizen is to just get out."

About 3,000 people die each year in house fires, according to the national association.

"I just think that people need to take fires seriously," Jenkins said.

For those determined to deal with a fire, Good recommends putting a lid over it and having a fire extinguisher on hand.

Cleanliness is a big deal, he said. Stove tops can get grease buildup that can ignite and fuel a fire.

Not splashing water on a grease fire is common knowledge, but sometimes people forget, he said.

He recommends smothering a grease fire with baking soda. However, be sure not to confuse flour for baking soda, Good said.

"Flour is very flammable. Flour will make a very nice ball of fire," he said.

To prevent fires, officials also recommend checking smoke detectors, keeping candles out of the kitchen, not wearing loose sleeves and turning pan handles so they can't be accidentally jostled.

Decoration might make for a good photo, but Jenkins said with lots of people around, extra materials in the home are a fire hazard.

"A lot of that preparation comes with basic common sense," he said.

It's also important to remember to turn off burners after use.

Good said he remembered an apartment fire last year just north of the University of Arkansas campus where a burner was left on, "which by itself wasn't hurting anything, but they came home and set all the groceries on it."

TURKEY FRYERS

Frying a turkey can take three to four minutes per pound. Compared with 20 minutes per pound roasting time, frying can seem like a good idea.

Northwest Arkansas fire department officials and the National Fire Protection Association strongly discourage the use of turkey fryers.

"I've been to several turkey fryer fires that are taking place on the back porch or in a carport. Those are typically very bad because it's a lot of fire that spreads very fast," Good said.

The fryers available for home use pose a significant danger that hot oil will be released at some point during the cooking process. In addition, the burners that heat the oil can ignite spilled oil, according to the association's website.

People who prefer fried turkey are encouraged to seek out professional establishments, such as grocery stores, specialty food retailers and restaurants, for the preparation of the dish or consider a new type of "oil-less" turkey fryer.

Anyone who doesn't believe in the danger of turkey fryers, Good said, should search for videos on YouTube.

For people using a turkey fryer, it's recommended they do so in a very open, clear outdoor space.

The turkey must be completely defrosted. Any ice can cause the oil to explode, Good said.

Jenkins said turkey frying is popular and the Fire Department gets one or two calls related to fryer fires during every holiday season.

During the holidays, many people will use appliances, such as a turkey fryer, they don't normally use. It comes back down to preparation, Jenkins said.

"Are they an overwhelming risk? Probably not," he said. "It's about education on the right way to use it. While people probably have an idea of how to do it, they should follow the manufacturer's recommendations. Know what you are doing."

Metro on 11/23/2017

Print Headline: Holiday happenings include kitchen fires; Tend stove, forgo fryer, experts urge

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