This story was originally published in Nov. 2020.
While Thanksgiving may look different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, officials are imploring residents to keep a few fire prevention tips in mind when whipping up their holiday meal.
According to a news release from the Tennessee Department of Commerce and Insurance, Thanksgiving is one of the busiest days of the year for fire departments across the country as people spend hours cooking elaborate meals for their friends and families.
Across Tennessee in 2019, approximately 25% of house fires involved cooking equipment and those 1,541 fires caused 11 deaths, at least 41 injuries and almost $4.3 million of property damage, the release states.
While the Chattanooga Fire Department doesn't typically see an influx of structure fires on Thanksgiving compared to any other day of the year, more residents staying home and cooking for themselves may alter that reality, according to Lindsey Rogers, CFD spokesperson.
"We know this year is different with the pandemic," said Rogers. "Many families will be staying home and cooking. For some, it may be their first time making Thanksgiving feasts. We expect it to be a busy day overall with all of the types of incidents our firefighters respond to."
On Thanksgiving night in 2016, Chattanooga firefighters battled a three-alarm commercial fire downtown on Williams Street. A total of 19 fire companies battled the flames for at least an hour before the bulk of the fire was brought under control. No injuries were reported.
"The cause of the fire is undetermined. It was a night many in the department won't forget," stated a Facebook post from the department on Tuesday.
Organizations, like the US government's Ready Campaign that seeks to help individuals "prepare for, respond to and mitigate emergencies," recommend that families create and practice a fire escape plan, have a working fire alarm and wear short, close-fitting or tightly rolled sleeves when cooking.
But, the holiday season brings more specific recommendations from TDCI, as people tend to cook and potentially fry turkeys, actions that may be greater fire hazards than normal day-to-day cooking.
Here are some Thanksgiving fire safety tips from TDCI and the Chattanooga Fire Department:
— Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease or oil fire. If the fire is manageable, use your all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call the fire department by dialing 911.
—Always keep an oven mitt and pan lid nearby when you're cooking. If a very small grease fire starts, slide the lid over the pan to smother the flame. Turn off the burner and leave the pan covered until it is completely cool.
— Stay in the kitchen when you are frying, grilling or broiling. If you have to leave the room, even for a moment, turn off the stove's burners.
— Use a kitchen timer when boiling, simmering, baking or roasting to remind yourself to check what you are cooking.
—Be alert while cooking. You won't be alert if you are sleepy, have taken medicine or drugs or consumed alcohol that makes you drowsy.
— Use caution with turkey fryers. The SFMO recommends that consumers utilize oil-free models.
— Turkey fryers must always be used outdoors and a safe distance from buildings and other flammable materials.
— Never use turkey fryers indoors or on a wooden deck.
— Make sure the fryer is used on a flat surface to prevent accidental tipping.
— Never leave a turkey fryer unattended. Most fryer units do not have thermostat controls. If you do not watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
— Never let children or pets near the fryer, even if it is not in use. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot for hours after use.
—Have a "kid-free zone" of at least three feet around the stove and areas where hot food or drink is prepared or carried.
— To prevent spillover, do not overfill the fryer.
— Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts when touching pot or lid handles. If possible, wear safety goggles to protect your eyes from oil splatter.
— Make sure the turkey is thawed and dry before cooking. Ice or water that mixes into the hot oil can cause flare-ups. The National Turkey Foundation recommends thawing the turkey in the refrigerator approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of weight.
- Compiled by Tierra Hayes