SALT LAKE CITY — This Thanksgiving will look a little different for most Utahns due to COVID-19, but one thing this year remains the same: The holiday holds the record for the highest home cooking fires caused yearly, according to the National Fire Protection Association.
Fire departments across the country responded to approximately 1,630 home cooking fires in 2018, the most recent year data was made available. Unattended cooking was the leading contributing factor in such fires, according to the association.
As you go to cook some mashed potatoes (which are apparently Utah's favorite Thanksgiving dish according to a Satellite Internet report), make sure you don't start a fire in the process.
"We don't want you to spend that holiday in a burn center, to not have your home, or to have somebody just injured," Salt Lake City Fire Capt. Anthony Burton said.
Here are some safety tips from officials on how you can prevent a cooking fire in your home:
- Stay in the kitchen when cooking on the stovetop and keep a watchful eye on your food
- Stay inside the home when cooking your turkey and check it frequently
- Keep kids at least three feet away from a hot stovetop
- Make sure kids also steer clear of hot liquids and foods; the steam or splash can cause serious burns
- Keep matches and lighters out of children's reach and don't leave kids alone with any lit flames, such as a candle
- Test smoke alarms before cooking
- Set timers to keep track of food cooking in the oven or on a stovetop
- Keep holiday decorations away from any open flame source
As the winter months creep in, bringing colder weather, state fire marshal Coy Porter said Utahns should not heat their homes using kitchen appliances (he noted this is typically not a common practice in the state) and stay smart when using space heaters. While other states commonly see fires related to smoking and alcohol use, in Utah the No. 1 cause is almost always related to heating and cooking equipment, Coy said.
For those who don't feel the need to take safety precautions, Burton said accidents do happen — even to firefighters.
"I've cooked in fire stations for many, many people for years," he said. "I've had burns and I'm in a firehouse. We've had food left on the stove when we get a call and so accidents happen and we're all human."
This year, Burton and Porter both said they hope people will take the necessary COVID-19 precautions, as well. With fewer people gathered in homes, Porter added that he hopes to see a decrease in unattended cooking fires, but said he can see it going either way as people might get distracted on video chats with family and friends from afar.
"The big thing is just be aware of the surroundings," he said. "Try to limit the number of distractions."
Distractions are bound to happen, but Coy said people can keep in mind one simple trick to remember they are cooking: Keep a kitchen utensil, like a wooden spoon or spatula, in your hand if you do get called away from the stove or oven. Usually, at some point, the person will see the utensil in their hand and realize, "Hey, I'm cooking," Coy said.
"We care about you, that's the biggest thing," Burton said. "We don't get in this business because we don't. We want people to be safe because we want you to enjoy your holiday."