Bake, don’t burn: staying kitchen-safe this holiday season

Kitchens hold many ways to accidentally start a fire for the careless

As the internet insinuates its way into every aspect of our lives, videos of people turning the notionally simple act of frying a turkey into an all-consuming column of flame have become seared into our collective consciousness, alongside things like cat videos.

Here’s some advice from local fire departments about how you can not be the one that ends up starring in a turkey-fryer fire video this year.

“If you overflow the pot with the turkey, and it gets onto the open flame, you have rapid expansion of fire,” said Aberdeen Fire Department fire services specialist Mitch Housden in an interview. “If you choose to deep fry, do it outside. Don’t ever do it inside.”

Burning oil spreads fire fast and hot, making it a potentially very dangerous situation, said Kara McDermott, firefighter and public information officer for the Ocean Shores Fire Department. It’s not something you should attempt for the first time on Thanksgiving, McDermott said.

“If you’re gonna do it, make sure you know how to do it,” McDermott said. “That’s not a last minute, ‘let’s give this a try’ situation.”

The National Fire Prevention Association’s focus this year is on safety in the kitchen, where most house fires begin.

“What we know is that a ton of home fires start in the kitchen. It’s one of the leading cause of home fires,” McDermott said. “It’s good to take a step back and give everything a good fresh eye on how your kitchen is set up. Anything that is flammable should be kept at least three feet away from the stove or the oven, which is further than you think.”

Keeping your stove top clean can also prevent a fire, McDermott said.

“Really look at your stove. Check your burners and the pans underneath your burners,” McDermott said. “It’s a really easy place for food to collect.”


The holiday is a family-oriented one, with many choosing to visit relatives, perhaps meaning there’s kids underfoot as they explore a new house.

“Distractions are a big big cause of cooking fires. Alcohol can sometimes be a factor,” McDermott said. “You might be sipping on a drink and losing a focus on the kitchen.”

Kids playing in the kitchen can get hurt, Housden said.

“Don’t leave food unattended. Especially with little kids around, people that can reach the stove,” Housden said. “We get a few burns from that.”

McDermott said it may be prudent to declare the kitchen a kid-free zone or similar while cooking.

“This is a time when there’s a lot of chaos. There’s a lot of people coming in and out of the kitchen,” McDermott said. “It’s a good time to batten down the safety hatches.”

Beset on all sides by family, obligations, multiple dishes and more, it’s also not a bad idea to build in reminders to check the food, McDermott said.

“Set reminders that things are in the oven. I use my phone,” McDermott said. “Don’t leave the kitchen unattended.”


Accidents do happen. If a fire should break out, there’s ways to handle it. One of the best things you can do in the case of a fire breaking out is to call 911, Housden said.

“Always call 911. Call early, call fast,” Housden said. “You can always cancel.”

Calling 911 for a kitchen fire is always a prudent move, McDermott said — even if the fire department arrives and the fire’s been taken care of, the speed with which a fire can grow means it’s always a risk.

“If you have a fire situation where the lid did not put it out, go ahead and get us headed your way,” McDermott said. “I want to get us rolling early. Fire spreads so much faster these days than ever before.”

For grease fires, putting a covering over the fire is a good move, Housden said. Applying water is not.

“With a stove top fire, we want them to try to cover it. Not extinguish it with water. That can lead to bigger issues,” Housden said. “Water can make it splatter and spread. Oftentimes, the typical ABC extinguisher, the fire is too hot, and it overpowers the extinguisher itself.”

Fires in the oven can usually be dealt with by leaving the door shut and letting the fire choke itself, Housden said — the oven can take the heat. Cutting the heat in a fire also helps, Housden said.

“If at any point you have a cooking fire, turn off the heat source,” Housden said. “That goes for both outside and inside.”

However, if a fire gets out of control, there are also next steps that can be taken to minimize the damage.

“If it’s getting out of control and you don’t feel comfortable, exit and close the doors behind you,” McDermott said. “It’ll help slow the fire.”

Contact Senior Reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or