Worried firefighters could show up for Thanksgiving dinner? How to avoid holiday disaster

Some unwanted Thanksgiving guests are unavoidable — your in-laws, or unbearable extended family. But, odds are, you don’t want to see the fire department show up at your house either, and you can do something about that.

We can joke about it now, but the reality is that cooking fires are the biggest cause of house fires in the United States, and on Thanksgiving Day, they’re much more common.

“On Thanksgiving Day, we see four times the number,” said Dana Baiocco, commissioner of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, at a holiday safety press event Thursday in Rockville, Maryland.

Co-hosted by celebrity designer and TV personality Sabrina Soto, the event highlighted the latest data on holiday-related consumer injuries and deaths, shared tips on purchasing child-safe toys and featured a series of live demonstrations of how household fires can start and accelerate.

U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commissioner Dana Baiocco and celebrity designer Sabrina Soto discussed holiday safety tips at a Thursday morning press event. (Courtesy WTOP/John Domen)

One such demonstration saw firefighters lower a frozen turkey into a fryer full of hot cooking oil — in fact, too much oil. It caused an enormous flash, and if the firefighters on-site had been standing next to the fryer instead of slowly dropping the bird in via pulley, the consequences could have been deadly.

“If you’re going to deep fry a turkey, three things to keep in mind,” said Baiocco. “It has to be completely thawed. If you put a frozen turkey in that hot oil it will have disastrous consequences.”

Second, she said, most fryers need about 5 gallons of oil, but if overfilled, lowering the bird into the fryer can cause a spillover, leading to a fire.

But the third and most important thing to remember isn’t about cooking technique, but location.

“Do not use that inside!” Baiocco said. “Not in the garage, not the porch. Get it away from the house.”

It’s not just turkey fryers that keep the fire department busy on Thanksgiving. Baiocco suggested not wearing loose clothing or long sleeves, which could catch fire when you reach for something.

She also said it’s important to keep your cooking space clear of potential fire hazards.

“Sometimes, you leave things behind that you shouldn’t,” said Baiocco. “Leaving your potholders next to the stove, or a bag you just emptied — plastic or paper — they could go up in flames.”

Distractions inside the kitchen can lead to disaster in just a few minutes.

“Put your phones down when you’re cooking,” said Baiocco. “You want to make sure you know where everybody is and what’s going on.”

John Domen

John started working at WTOP in 2016 after having grown up in Maryland listening to the station as a child. While he got his on-air start at small stations in Pennsylvania and Delaware, he's spent most of his career in the D.C. area, having been heard on several local stations before coming to WTOP.

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