How to stay safe from holiday kitchen fires

By Gordon Williams 

We’re well into the winter holiday season, meaning we’re well into the kitchen fire season. “Cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home injuries,” says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), a non-profit entity, founded in 1896 that works to reduce death, injury and property loss due to fire. 

Obviously, the more time we spend in the kitchen, the greater the risk of kitchen fires. No surprise then that Thanksgiving Day is the busiest day of the year for kitchen fires, followed by Christmas Day, followed by the day before Thanksgiving, followed by Christmas Eve. No surprise either that the outlook for kitchen fires this holiday season is especially grim, with the pandemic keeping millions of American families stuck at home and working overtime in the kitchen. 

Fortunately, there is no shortage of good advice — from the American Red Cross and others — on how to prevent kitchen fires and how to manage fires should they occur. The Red Cross offers seven rules for cooking your holiday feast safely: 

  1. Keep an eye on what you fry. A Red Cross survey showed that 70 percent of us are guilty of unattended cooking — putting something on the stove or in the oven and then leaving the kitchen.  The answer, of course, is to never leave cooking food unattended. If you must leave the kitchen, even for a short period of time, turn off the stove. 
  2. Move items that can burn away from the stove. This includes dishtowels, bags, boxes, paper and curtains. Keep children and pets at least three feet away from the stove.  
  3. Avoid wearing loose clothing or dangling sleeves while cooking. 
  4. When frying food, turn the burner off if you see smoke or if the grease starts to boil. Carefully remove the pan from the burner. 
  5. Keep a pan lid or cookie sheet nearby. Use it to cover the pan if it catches on fire, this will put out the fire. Leave the pan covered until it is completely cooled. Pouring water on burning grease can spread the flames. Slamming the lid on the burning pan can cause the flames to blossom out. Slide the lid slowly over the pan until it is completely covered. (If it’s an oven fire, says the NFPA, turn off the heat and keep the oven door closed). 
  6. Turn pot handles to the back of the stove, so no one bumps them or pulls them over. 
  7. Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on. Check on the kitchen before going to bed or leaving home to ensure that all stoves, ovens and small appliances are turned off.  

The Red Cross also has specific holiday season advice for staying safe from Covid-19. “Avoid attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside our households,” says the Red Cross. “Instead, have a small dinner with family and perhaps a virtual dinner with friends and family who live outside the home.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised all Americans to stay at home this holiday season to keep from spreading the virus. If you do want to cook a grand feast for friends and family who live outside your home, the Red Cross suggests cooking everything in your own kitchen, then delivering the food door-to-door, without coming into direct contact with others. 

The NFPA has its own list of suggestions for staying safe from holiday cooking fires: 

  • Stay home while cooking a holiday turkey or other dish. Check on your cooking frequently. 
  • Keep the kitchen floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or shopping bags. 
  • Keep kids away from hot food and liquids.  Splatter — or even steam — from something hot can cause serious burns. 
  • Make sure there are no dangling cords from a kitchen appliance such as a coffee maker or an electric knife that a child might pull on. 
  • Before you start cooking, make sure all smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.  

The NFPA suggests having activities — games, puzzles or books, for instance — that will keep kids out of the kitchen when you are cooking. “Kids can get involved in meal preparation with recipes that can be done outside the kitchen,” says the NFPA.

Finally, the NFPA offers advice on what to do if there is a fire — whether to stay in the kitchen and fight the fire or leave it to the fire department to deal with. 

Fires double in size every 30 seconds, so a small fire can quickly grow into something big and threatening. “If you have any doubt about fighting a small fire, just get out,” says the NFPA. “When you leave, close the door behind you to help contain the fire. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number from outside the home.” 

Fire officials suggest staying to fight the fire with a home fire extinguisher only if it is smaller than a wastebasket. First, get everyone outside the house in case the fire spreads. Never let the fire get between you and an exit leading to safety. If you exhaust one fire extinguisher and the fire is not completely out, get yourself to safety and make certain the fire department has been called. 

Stay safe and healthy everyone! Happy Thanksgiving from the Northwest Region.

American Red Cross Northwest Region

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