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Fry the turkey, not the house: Some safety tips for the holiday

Line cook Apolinar Aguilar-Gomez carries some Thanksgiving turkeys back to the oven  Wednesday morning at Hudson's Seafood House on Hilton Head Island. Workers were preparing for today's community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the restaurant and St. Andrews by the Sea Methodist Church.
Line cook Apolinar Aguilar-Gomez carries some Thanksgiving turkeys back to the oven Wednesday morning at Hudson's Seafood House on Hilton Head Island. Workers were preparing for today's community Thanksgiving dinner hosted by the restaurant and St. Andrews by the Sea Methodist Church.

Beaufort County firefighters hope they won't be asked to crash any Thanksgiving dinners this year.

"It's the holidays and people are rushing around like crazy," said Lt. Dan Byrne, spokesman for the Beaufort Fire Department. "They've got family coming in from out of town and they're not focused on safety."

According to the National Fire Prevention Association, Thanksgiving is the leading day for home cooking fires. Firefighters nationwide respond to about 1,300 home cooking fires eachThanksgiving, about three times the national daily average.

Byrne said Thanksgiving-related cooking fires haven't been a problem in recent years, a trend the city's fire service would like continue.

Lee Levesque, spokesman for the Lady's Island-St. Helena Fire District, said a deluge of cooking-related calls is always a possibility around the holidays.

"Anytime the weather gets colder, our call volumes go up, and when the holidays roll around, food is an integral part of that, so lots of people will be in their kitchens," Levesque said. "We don't want people getting so busy during the holidays that they forget about the minor points of safety."

Nationwide, firefighters will respond to 4,300 Thanksgiving fires, resulting in 15 deaths, 50 injuries and $27 million in property damage, according to a prediction by the U.S. Fire Administration. Cooking is expected to be responsible for 42 percent of those fires.

Cooking fires continue to be a problem statewide. Sixty-seven people have been killed by fire this year, according to the S.C. Fire Marshal's Office. Cooking was determined to have caused six deadly fires this year. Last year, 15 people were killed in South Carolina due to cooking-related fires.

There were no major fires last year during the holidays, but fire crews did respond to several small kitchen fires that caused smoke damage, said Bluffton Fire Marshall Bill Martin.

" I do worry about people catching their house on fire, but more than anything, I worry about people injuring themselves," Martin said of stove-top fires.

He said Thanksgiving turkey frying was the biggest culprit.

"The major thing to remember is not to let the oil temperature go over 350 degrees," Martin said. "And don't walk away. Make sure you stay there and monitor what you're doing."

Of the 12 fires in Beaufort and Port Royal this year, four were cooking fires, Byrne said. City firefighters also were called to eight cooking-relating fires that were extinguished when they arrived.

"Cooking fires are 100 percent preventable," Byrne said. "It's simple. If you walk away from the stove, put the pan on another burner and turn it down. Cooking fires have everything you need for a fire and generally tend to be more explosive than other fires."

Safety tips

• Stay in the kitchen while frying, grilling or broiling food. If you leave the kitchen, turn off the stove.



•If you are simmering, baking, roasting, boiling or frying food, check it regularly, remain in the home while food is cooking and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.



• If you are frying meat or poultry, make sure the oil temperature does not exceed 350 degrees -- check temperatures with a meat thermometer.



• When frying poultry, like turkey, make sure the meat is fully thawed and dry before you place it in the fire.



• Keep anything that can catch fire -- oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains -- away from your stovetop.



• Have a fire extinguisher handy.



Source: National Fire Prevention Association and Bluffton Fire Marshall Bill Martin.

Staff reporter Cassie Foss contributed to this story.

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