By Fort Leonard Wood Public Affairs Office
The holidays are fast approaching, the temperature is getting cooler, and the number of reported house fires is skyrocketing.
There are many reasons that the number of house fires increase during the holiday season. The use of space heaters, poor furnace maintenance, and the failure of people with fireplaces or wood stoves to have an annual flue inspection or properly clean their flues are definitely contributing factors. Christmas lights plugged into over-loaded circuits and cheap extension cords used for holiday decorations result in many fires. The increased use of candles for decoration and failure to keep live Christmas trees adequately watered are two more common causes of holiday fires. The most common cause of house fires during the holidays, however, is no different than the rest of the year, and that is unattended cooking.
In recent years more and more people have opted to deep fry their holiday turkey in an outdoor propane deep fat fryer. While this makes for a delicious bird, cooking in this manner is dangerous and several precautions must be taken.
These fryers typically consist of a large metal pot filled with oil resting on a metal stand with a propane burner. Remember, cooking oil is a combustible liquid and when we cook in this manner we are literally heating a combustible liquid over an open flame. These fryers should never be used indoors.
Underwriters Laboratory Inc., the non-profit company that places the UL labels on all sorts of products certifying that they meet certain safety requirements, has refused to certify any model of turkey fires, citing, “Based on our test findings, the fryers used to produce those great-tasting birds are not worth the risks.”
If people are to use them safely, they must be aware of the common causes of fires and burn injuries attributed to the fryers. UL has provided the following common causes:
Many units easily tip over, spilling the hot oil within the cooking pot.
If the cooking pot is overfilled with oil, the oil may spill out of the unit when the turkey is placed into the cooking pot. Oil may hit the burner/flames causing a fire to engulf the entire unit.
Partially frozen turkeys placed into the fryer can cause a spillover effect. This too, may result in an extensive fire.
With no thermostat controls, the units also have the potential to overheat the oil to the point of combustion.
The sides of the cooking pot, lid and pot handles get dangerously hot, posing severe burn hazards.
For those that insist on using these turkey fryers:
- Turkey fryers should always be used outdoors a safe distance from buildings and any other material that can burn.
- Never use turkey fryers on wooden decks or in garages.
- Make sure the fryers are used on a flat surface to reduce accidental tipping.
- Never leave the fryer unattended. Most units do not have thermostat controls. If you don’t watch the fryer carefully, the oil will continue to heat until it catches fire.
- Never let children or pets near the fryer when in use. Even after use, never allow children or pets near the turkey fryer. The oil inside the cooking pot can remain dangerously hot, hours after use.
- To avoid oil 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 completely thawed and be careful with marinades. Oil and water don’t mix, and water causes oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard. The National Turkey Federation recommends refrigerator thawing and to allow approximately 24 hours for every five pounds of bird thawed in the refrigerator.
- Keep an all-purpose fire extinguisher nearby. Never use water to extinguish a grease fire. Remember to use your best judgment when attempting to fight a fire. If the fire is manageable, use an all-purpose fire extinguisher. If the fire increases, immediately call 911 for help and get away.
During the holidays, your chances of being involved in a house fire increase. It is imperative to practice fire safety to help ensure enjoyable holidays. Where is your fire extinguisher? When was the last time you tested your smoke detector? When was your last home fire drill? If you must use a turkey fryer, never leave it unattended.