Don’t Cook Up a Thanksgiving House Fire


The hottest day of the year might not be what you think – according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), the leading day for home cooking fires is Thanksgiving – with triple the number of occurrences than the daily average.

The U.S. Fire Administration estimates that 2,000 fires are reported every year on Thanksgiving alone, resulting in an average of $21 million in annual property losses.

It’s not surprising that the leading cause of Thanksgiving Day fires is cooking, directly contributing to nearly 70% of all reported occurrences. Nor is it shocking that these holiday fires are reported most frequently between the hours of noon and 4 p.m. Reports typically peak during the first hour of that range – right when the football games come on and the turkey is in to roast or fry.

Joining these statistics could cost you more than just a ruined turkey and a family-sized box of Chinese food to replace it. The average cost of fire-related home insurance losses tops $33,000 per claim, according to the Insurance Information Institute.

We’ve compiled a list of 5 simple tips from the experts to help you stay safe this holiday.

Stand by your pan

OK, that headline is the name for a campaign by the National Fire Prevention Association. But it says it all. “Fires often start when items cooking are left unattended,” according to  Lorraine Carli, the NFPA’s Vice President of Communications, in a press release last year. Follow these simple precautions as you prepare a meal to help prevent cooking fires:

  • Never leave the cooking area if you are frying, grilling, or broiling food, as these pose the highest risk for fire.
  • Use a timer to remind you the stove or oven is on, and always keep an eye on food that’s baking, boiling, roasting, or simmering.
  • If you leave the kitchen for even a short amount of time, either turn the stove off or ask someone to watch it for you.
  • Do not use the stove, oven, or any other heating appliance if you have consumed alcohol.

Thanksgiving is a busy day; there’s a feast to prepare, football to be watched, family members to entertain and sometimes separate, and the list goes on and on. However, regardless of what else is going on in the house, if you’ve got food in the oven or on the stove or on an outside fryer or grill, cooking should be your top priority.

Smothered and covered

No, we’re not talking about how you should order your hash browns from Waffle House after scorching the stuffing. Different types of fires require different responses in order to prevent the damage from spreading. Raymond Stackhouse and John Stout, experts with BELFOR, a leading global restoration and repair company, explain how to deal with different types of fires:

“Specifically for grease fires, smothering is the best method. Do not attempt to put out a grease fire with an extinguisher or water. An example is a fire on your stove involving a pot of grease or food being cooled in grease. Smother the flames by putting a lid on the fire or use baking soda.”

For other types of fires, such as paper, wood, trash and other general combustibles, use an ABC-type fire extinguisher. BELFOR recommends purchasing an extinguisher 5 pounds or larger to ensure you’ll have enough fire suppressant to keep the flames contained.

Sound the alarm

The U.S. Fire Administration defines nonconfined fires as cooking fires that are not contained at the point of origin and spread to other parts of the home. It says about 20% of nonconfined Thanksgiving fires occur in residential buildings with no smoke alarms. Experts at BELFOR highly recommend installing at least one smoke detector on every floor in order to be alerted of danger in time to escape and prevent fires from spreading dangerously. Here are a few more tips about smoke detectors that could help save your home – and your life:

  • Test smoke alarms monthly to ensure they’re functioning properly.
  • Replace batteries once a year, and never leave them out – an occasional false alarm is preferable to allowing a potential disaster to fly under the radar.
  • Update the entire smoke alarm unit every 8-10 years.

If you have a choice, BELFOR recommends installing hardwired smoke detectors with a battery backup so you’ll be protected even during power outages. However, as long as you have any type of smoke/heat detection device installed, your chances of falling victim to a disastrous fire will be greatly reduced. Plus, it could help lower your home insurance premiums – providers often offer discounts of up to 5% for home that contain smoke alarms.

Keep your mitts off the stove

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, 35% of nonconfined fires on Thanksgiving are ignited in part due to heat sources being too close to combustible materials or as a result of abandoning/discarding materials in a heated area. This is the leading contributor to Thanksgiving fires.

The NFPA instructs Thanksgiving chefs to keep the kitchen as clean as possible even as you cook. Don’t leave pot holders, oven mitts, paper or plastic bags, or anything else that could ignite anywhere near the stove top, and clean up spilled food or grease from the burners as quickly as possible. Even long sleeves, dish towels, and curtains could catch fire and cause the flames to spread quickly – so always be alert.

Cover your bases

If you do experience an accidental fire this holiday season or any other time of year, you can likely count on some protection against property damage resulting from fire and smoke damage as long as you’ve invested in a smart home insurance policy. Here are a few considerations to check into before the holiday:

  • Update your policy to make sure you’ve got the coverage limits you need and a deductible you can afford should something go wrong.
  • If you’ve recently purchased any high-value items (including early Christmas presents!), make sure they’ll be covered by your home insurance policy. Depending on their value and your specific coverage limits, you may need to schedule an endorsement to ensure they’re protected.
  • Update your home inventory to include descriptions, photos, and receipts of all your valuables. This will help document what you’ve lost and how much you’re owed in an insurance claim.

Follow these simple precautions to ensure a happy, healthy holiday, and the most stress you’ll have to face this Thanksgiving is deciding whether or not you can survive going back for seconds.

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