The extra food cooked and shared during the holidays usually is a treat — but also increases the chances of dangerous home fires.
Cooking was the leading cause of reported home fires and home fire injuries in 2015-2019 and the second leading cause of home fire deaths, says the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).
Cooking caused 49% of reported home fires, 42% of home fire injuries and 20% of reported home fire deaths.
“Unattended cooking still ranks number one when it comes to accidental fires both locally and nationwide,” said Martinsville Fire Chief and Fire Marshall Ted Anderson. “This is sad since it’s so preventable.
“Unfortunately, we’ve had fatalities resulting from unattended cooking and with more people cooking, tied in with more distractions around the home this time of year, we’re asking people to please pay special attention to keeping an eye on all of their cooking.”
The NFPA says when you cook be on alert and if your are sleepy or have consumed alcohol, don’t use the stove or stovetop, and stay in the kitchen while you are frying, grilling, boiling, or broiling food.
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If you are simmering, baking, or roasting food, check it regularly, remain in the kitchen while food is cooking and use a timer to remind you that you are cooking.
And keep anything that can catch fire — oven mitts, wooden utensils, food packaging, towels or curtains — away from your stovetop.
“We don’t want to see anyone have to go through the tragedy of a fire,” Anderson said. “It makes it even worse emotionally during the holiday seasons, especially Christmas.
“If a fire occurs, call 911 immediately from outside your home, ensuring that everyone is out safely and meeting at a predesignated meeting place.”
Anderson said the best way to prevent a cooking-related fire is to not allow yourself to get distracted while you’re cooking.
“Prior to cooking, make sure you have lids that fit your pots,” said Anderson. “If safe to do so, the lid can be used to snuff the fire out, and then turn the burner off should a fire occur. Never grab a pot or pan that is on fire and attempt to take it outside.
“I’ve seen fires spread and people burned severely trying to do so.”
The NFBA says two-thirds of home cooking fires start with the ignition of food or other cooking materials. Clothing is the item first ignited in less than 1% of these fires, but clothing ignitions caused 8% of the home cooking fire deaths.
Ranges or cooktops account for three-fifths of home cooking fire incidents, and unattended equipment is a factor in one-third of reported home cooking fires and over half of the associated deaths.
Frying dominates the cooking fire problem.
“Know where your fire extinguisher is along with the breaker to turn your stove off,” Anderson said. “Make sure your fire extinguisher is mounted, but not right beside of your stove. It needs to be mounted away from where the fire potential is so you can reach it in the event of a fire.
“Never cook while wearing loose or baggy sleeves. These can come in contact with the burner and catch on fire.”
Anderson said someone died in Martinsville several years ago due to loose-fitting clothing catching fire while the person was cooking.
Handles should be turned inward, Anderson said, but not over top of other burners, because curious children might grab a handle and cause the hot contents to be poured on them.
“Use cooking as a teaching opportunity for children so they know the dangers of a stove, and never leave them unattended near cooking or heating appliances,” said Anderson.
The Martinsville Fire and EMS encourages anyone with questions to call them at 276-403-5325.
“Ensure you have working, in-date smoke alarms positioned properly in you home and we will come to your home and install them for free,” Anderson said. “We want everyone to be able to enjoy their Christmas and all holidays with their families enjoying time together in you home, without any unplanned visits from the fire department.”
Bill Wyatt is a reporter for the Martinsville Bulletin. He can be reached at 276-638-8801, Ext. 2360. Follow him @billdwyatt.