Due to the Coronavirus pandemic, we’ve all been spending quite a bit more time in our kitchens this year. But with this extra time spent cooking at home has also come a boost in kitchen-related house fires.
Coming up on the Thanksgiving holiday this week, it’s more important than ever to be mindful of the fire hazards associated with the holiday, and of the potential additional fire hazards that 2020 could bring as many Americans amend the way they’re celebrating amid the pandemic.
The CDC has released guidelines on how to safety spend your Thanksgiving holiday, as have other organizations aimed at ensuring public safety. These guidelines are helpful for preventing the spread of the virus but can also pose some new fire safety issues.
Be safe and be prepared this holiday season. Consider these potential fire safety hazards as you prepare for this Thanksgiving holiday, whether you’re cooking for just you or a group of people.
Deep frying your turkey
More people will likely be moving their cooking and eating outdoors this year, spurring many to try their hand at deep frying their bird. Be aware that deep frying turkey can be a dangerous cooking method.
If you choose this method, consider these tips to prevent fire or related injuries:
- Only deep fry a turkey outdoors.
- Keep fryer away from trees, brush, flammable items/debris, wooden decks, etc.
- Don’t overfill the oil.
- To avoid overfilling, add water AFTER adding the turkey to pot and mark the water level. Dump the water and fill the pot with oil to the marked level.
- Never leave the fryer unattended.
- Designate one person to fry the turkey.
- Keep children and pets away from the fryer.
- Monitor the temperature of the oil.
- Use a thermometer to prevent the oil from overheating and catching fire.
- Only use a completely thawed turkey.
- Be prepared for a fire.
- Have a multipurpose (ABC) fire extinguisher nearby. NEVER extinguish a turkey fryer fire with water.
Experimentation in cooking
We’ve all been pent up in our homes a good deal this year with lockdowns and various restrictions. For some home cooks, this Thanksgiving is a time to get creative and try something new in the kitchen.
Food & Wine noted the trend this summer in an article entitled “Why the Pandemic Could Be Causing More Kitchen Fires.” In the article, the author notes that “more novice cooks may be trying their hand at cooking out of necessity, boredom, or both, which can cause more mistakes. And speaking of boredom, people may also be trying new cooking techniques they’re less familiar with.”
If you’re one of these cooks planning on experimenting with a new technique in the kitchen this holiday season, practice the technique prior to Thanksgiving Day so you are less distracted and better prepared to react if necessary.
Unattended kitchen area
Moving the dining area outdoors is a smart move during this pandemic, but it can also mean unattended cooking areas indoors.
Be sure that there is always someone in the kitchen or cooking area where food is being prepared regardless of the dining situation. And never leave the stove, oven, or any other kitchen appliance on while you’re out of the kitchen. This may be challenging when cooking a turkey (which takes a while), so try to take “shifts” with someone else so that someone is always nearby.
More people at home means more distractions in the kitchen. Add in the Thanksgiving holiday, and that can be a recipe for disaster. Distracted cooking is one of the leading causes of kitchen fires. Just as you should never leave a kitchen area unattended when cooking, you should also pay attention to what’s going on in the kitchen.
Keep children and house guests out of the kitchen as much as possible by setting up a dining area or drink station in another area of the home or just outside. When you’re cooking, stay off of your phone as much as possible. Finally, while sipping on wine or other alcoholic drink is a favored pastime while cooking dinner for many people, it can lead to more mistakes in the kitchen and be a distraction in and of itself.
Dining outdoors can get chilly when the sun goes down. If you’re planning on having a bonfire to accompany your Thanksgiving festivities, do it safely. If you have a fire pit that’s contained, that is your best bet. Dry leaves and windy fall evenings are ideal conditions for fires, so contain the flames and avoid starting a fire in a heavily wooded area.
Assign one person to be in charge of the fire for the duration of the event. Be prepared to extinguish the fire quickly should it spread or grow out of control. Most fire safety experts recommend keeping a bucket of sand and a hose nearby.
Ventilation and open doors/windows
Homes can be a main source of viral spread. In fact, the CDC has reported that up to 70 percent of COVID cases are a result of private in-home get togethers. A major reason for this indoor spread is ventilation. Homes are poorly ventilated by design, so many health organizations recommend open windows and doors to allow for better air circulation. If the weather is warmer where you are this November, and opening windows and doors is an option, be aware of the associated dangers.
Open windows and doors mean wind blowing in and through your home. Tie back curtains if you have candles lit. Keep fireplace areas free of blankets or other flammable items. In the kitchen, try to use a fan vs. open window so that you can control the flow of air and be mindful of the direction of the wind. Remember: open flames and wind do not mix