Stand by your pan.
It’s a popular warning from fire-safety experts and even the name of a cookbook, but it is spot-on when it comes to cooking safely, especially during Thanksgiving.
That’s because the unattended cooking the admonition highlights is the No. 1 cause of home fires on Thanksgiving Day, a day in which homeowners suffer three times more fires than any other day of the year, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Think twice before leaving simmering pots, skillets and appliances alone for even a few seconds, says Keith Mora, an inspector with the L.A. County Fire Department, who has seen his share of this neglect.
“[Unattended cooking] is always one of our biggest problems during Thanksgiving and it’s a year-round problem for us,” said Mora, who also cited candles and non-working smoke detectors as issues during the holiday. “It’s always a bad idea. You never want to leave any food unattended on a stove or cooktop. It needs to be attended at all times just in case something goes wrong and you need to extinguish it.”
Mora cautions people, however, to never try to douse an electrical or grease fire with water, saying the best option is a fire extinguisher that’s Underwriters Laboratories (UL)-listed and rated for electrical and grease fires.
It’s important advice because about 2,000 fires occur yearly in the U.S. on Thanksgiving Day, causing an average of five fatalities, 15 injuries and $21 million in property damage, the U.S. Fire Association says. Two-thirds of home-cooking fires start with the range, according to the fire protection association.
Damaged appliance and extension cords and overloaded circuits also contribute greatly to electrical accidents and fires during the holiday season, according to the Electric Safety Foundation International.
“Along with potentially sparking a fire, frayed cords no longer offer people protection from electrical shock or serious injury and should be replaced immediately when discovered,” said Don Neal, director of Corporate Environmental, Health and Safety at Southern California Edison (SCE).
Something that does provide protection from electrical shock is plugging all countertop appliances into Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI)-protected power outlets.
“GFCI protection is a must near sinks or really any area with moisture because of the increased danger of inadvertent shock,” said Neal, adding that despite these protections, people should still place appliances away from the sink and never forget that water and electricity don’t mix.
As for extension cords, Neal urges people not only to refrain from overloading them, but also to never use them with large appliances, such as refrigerators and space heaters, because the increased heat they generate could cause the cord to overheat, melt or ignite.
And that UL label mentioned earlier regarding fire extinguishers? It is equally important to make sure appliances and cords bear it since it is a trusted independent product safety organization that does not certify the use of turkey fryers. Other trusted product safety organizations include the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) or Intertek (ETL).
Curious and excited children should not be forgotten during Thanksgiving, either. To help protect them, keep small kids at least three feet away from the oven, keep appliance cords out of their reach, keep pot handles turned inward on the range and keep the floor clear of extension cords to prevent trips and falls.
But, when it comes to more urgent dangers, Mora preaches preparation.
“Have a plan and be ready for any kind of emergency,” the fire inspector said. “Have neighbors and friends that you can call on. Just constantly have a backup plan.”
Neal agrees but encourages prevention, too, saying, “Most mishaps and injuries can be prevented by merely being aware and conscientious because to have the best Thanksgiving, you have to have a safe one.”