By Joel Hall
Thanksgiving is a memorable time for many, filled with food, fun, and family socializing. For those who aren't careful, however, the festive holiday can become highly flammable.
The fire departments in Henry County and Clayton County say they want residents in the Southern Crescent to have the safest weekend possible, and they've offered tips on how to eliminate holiday hazards.
Sabrina Puckett, Henry County fire department captain, said that every year, more than 4,000 Americans die in fires, 1,200 of which occur during the holiday season. She warned that deep-fried turkey, while increasingly popular, poses a significant fire risk.
"They need to read the owner's manual before they use [a turkey deep fryer,] " said Puckett. "They need to use all of the proper precautions, because it's very flammable and it doesn't take much for it to flip over."
Puckett said most turkey fryers have no temperature controls and can boil over very easily. She said turkey frying should only be done on a flat, concrete surface, a good distance from the home, and that only smaller turkeys, no more than 12 pounds, should be used.
Landry Merkison, Clayton County fire department battalion chief, said cooking-related fires are very common during Thanksgiving and turkey fryers add an extra element of danger to Thanksgiving. He said one of the most dangerous things to do is fry an unthawed turkey.
"The turkey fryers add a little extra fuel to the fire, so to speak," said Merkison. "When you put ice crystals in hot grease, it overflows and it causes a really bad reaction."
Merkison said oils with a high fat content, such as vegetable oil, ignite at low temperatures, so low fat oils such as peanut, Canola, or safflower oil should be used. He said the fryer should "be a good 20 feet away from the house if possible."
Merkison said many fires can be avoided if people stop and take time to remember what they are doing.
"With a lot of people around, things can slip your mind," said Merkison. "The best thing people can do during the holidays is slow down, take that extra walk through the house, and make sure everything is done. Make sure that all the eyes on the stove are off. Make sure all the candles are blown out."
Merkison said extra precautions should be taken for small children, such as making sure pot handles face inward on the stove and small sharp objects aren't left around for children to stick in their mouths.
Puckett said the time after Thanksgiving is a common time for people to start putting up their Christmas decorations. She said Christmas trees present a variety of dangers, particularly live trees which have not been watered.
"During the holiday season, there are over 1,200 fires and 190 fire injuries associated with improper holiday tree and candle care," said Puckett. She said live trees should be constantly watered and never kept near a heat source, as they can easily dry out and become combustible.
Puckett added that frayed or broken Christmas lights also present a hazard. She said to avoid using strings of lights with insulation gaps and to never leave lit Christmas lights unattended.
In addition to fires, Merkison said firefighters respond to a number of calls related to out-of-town travelers leaving their medications at home. He said those going out of town for Thanksgiving should take stock of their medications before they leave.
He said that if a fire does occur, having an escape plan and making sure everybody knows that plan is paramount to saving lives.
"If you do have an incident at your house, know how to get out of your house and know where to meet," said Merkison. "If you have people over there, you should talk to them and discuss with them where to meet. If everybody is standing there and can say, 'we're all accounted for,' then we can get down to business. That is the No. 1 way that people can make our jobs easier."