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Smart Cooking is the Recipe to a Safer Thanksgiving

Unattended stovetop cooking and turkey fryers loom as the greatest hazards, but worn appliance cords and overloaded outlets present fire and shock hazards to avoid as well.

  • By Paul Netter
  • November 15, 2017

Spanish / Chinese / Korean / Vietnamese

There were eight home-cooking fires in Orange County last Thanksgiving.

That’s eight more than necessary.

Unfortunately, it fits a national trend that typically brings nearly four times as many reported home-cooking fires on Thanksgiving than a typical day, according to the National Fire Protection Association, and unattended stovetop cooking — especially frying — leads to one-third of them.

Capt. Larry Kurtz, a 28-year veteran of the Orange County Fire Authority, hopes to help families safely celebrate and reverse the “huge rise” in cooking fires on Thanksgiving.

“Unattended cooking is a big issue, with about half of our [2016] fires caused by it,” said Kurtz, who has also experienced oven-turkey, grease-caused and deep-fryer fires. “It’s easy for people to get distracted on Thanksgiving, but never leave your stovetop cooking unattended and use a timer on oven cooking.”

Equally as important is that people have working smoke alarms and an emergency plan in the event of a fire.

Holidays Leading Home Fires


“Have the proper fire extinguisher nearby or have a pan that can smother the fire out,” said Kurtz, whose agency will hold a holiday fire hazard demonstration Nov. 21 at Orange County Global Medical Center. “The sink and water is right there, but water is not going to put out a grease fire. It will make it worse. A fire extinguisher is a small investment for the potential of a very big payoff.”

Unattended cooking is a big issue, with about half of our [2016] fires caused by it.

 Capt. Larry Kurtz

Prevention also applies to other electrical hazards on a day when more than 80 percent of Americans are expected to eat turkey and cooking fires lead to an average of 10 fatalities, 50 injuries and $28 million in property damage.

For instance, damaged appliance and extension cords are leading cause of fires and electrical accidents too. 

“Anything with frayed or worn cords should be replaced immediately,” said Andrew S. Martinez, vice president of Safety, Security and Business Resiliency at Southern California Edison. “They could potentially spark a fire and they no longer offer families protection from shock or serious injury.”

The shock and fire hazards don’t end there. SCE offers other tips on preparing that Thanksgiving feast safely:

  • Never plug more than one large appliance into an outlet and never plug large appliances such as refrigerators or space heaters into extension cords that should also only be used temporarily.
  • Need more power to make everything work? Do not overload outlets with multiple adaptors or power strips.
  • Water and electricity don’t mix. For the best protection, plug all countertop appliances into Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter-protected outlets.
  • Ensure that all appliances bear the labels of trusted independent safety organizations like Underwriters Laboratories (UL).

And turkey fryers? Not only does the fire association discourage them, UL still refuses to certify turkey fryers.

If prevention fails, however, Kurtz cautions again to always be educated and prepared.

“You may get razzed a little bit by friends and family for having a fire extinguisher or pot lid nearby,” said Kurtz. “But you’re just being safe, and the Orange County Fire Authority is good with that.”

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