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Think before you fry: Be smart to stay safe with holiday cooking

By JOSHUA QUALLS

The Herald-Dispatch

HUNTINGTON, W.Va. — House fires rage across the nation each Thanksgiving about four times as often as any other day of the year, according to the National Fire Protection Association. The second-leading day? The one right before Thanksgiving.

Fire safety experts say it doesn’t have to be that way. By following some basic guidelines, families can enjoy good times, good food and good company during the holidays without worrying about the turkey being too dry, or, much worse, the house burning down.

But even seasoned cooks might have trouble with frying turkeys, which has become more and more popular – and more and more of a problem – over the past few years as the Huntington Fire Department has worked to snuff out Thanksgiving flames.

“They definitely need to be done outside, not inside the house,” said HFD Deputy Chief Brian Grieco.

The temperature has to be right, and the bird has to be 100 percent thawed. Putting in either a frozen turkey or too much oil can make the pot boil over and cause a big problem quickly.

Turkey frying is so dangerous that the NFPA recommends not doing it at home at all if it can’t be done without oil. The organization instead suggests buying a fried turkey from a grocery store or restaurant.

While frying a turkey is a tricky feat for anyone to pull off, most cooking fires break out just because people either don’t know what they are doing or don’t follow instructions.

“That’s probably the biggest thing,” Grieco said. “You want to follow the directions on packages.”

U.S. fire departments responded to more than 1,700 house fires on Thanksgiving in 2015, according to the NFPA.

Unattended cooking was the leading reason behind cooking fires and fire deaths. That was followed by cooking equipment, which was responsible for nearly half of all home fires and related injuries.

To prevent those fires and deaths from happening, the NFPA and the Red Cross both have comprehensive lists of safety tips for holiday cooking. A few of the tips they share are listed here, but the full lists can easily be found online.

First of all, it’s never a good idea to leave food cooking without supervision. Timers make good friends, but the food also should regularly be checked to make sure it isn’t burnt.

Smoke alarms go a long way, and it doesn’t hurt to have a fire extinguisher. The Red Cross also recommends having an alarm on each level of the home, testing them each month and replacing their batteries every year.

Kids and pets should be kept away from the cooking area for personal safety and the safety of others, and anything that can catch fire should be kept away from hot food and cooking appliances.

Grieco said tips like these are worth following at any time of the year, but the fire department is just a phone call away.

“If the fire is any size at all, that’s why we’re here,” Grieco said. “We can be there in three minutes or less, and we bring with us a several-hundred-thousand-dollar piece of equipment with all kinds of stuff on it for us to use to put out fire.”

There have been 34 home fire fatalities in West Virginia so far this year, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Follow reporter Joshua Qualls on Twitter @JQuallsHD.

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