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State, local officials urge caution during cooking

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

State Insurance and Safety Fire Commissioner John Oxendine, and local fire officials, are urging people to be careful this week, so their holiday meals do not turn into holiday disasters.

Thanksgiving, perhaps the biggest cooking holiday of the year, is only a couple of days away. Soon, people will be cooking fat turkeys, and multiple side dishes, including stuffing, rolls or biscuits, green bean casseroles, sweet potatoes, mashed potatoes, gravies, and pumpkin or pecan pies for the traditional family meal. The holiday can also be a time of fires that occur in the kitchen, while people are preparing their meals, officials said.

"In past years, we've had numerous fatal fires which were cooking-related," Oxendine said, in a written statement. "Many fires are caused by a stove that has been accidentally left on."

Last year, there were nine deaths in Georgia caused by cooking-related fires at Thanksgiving, according to Oxendine spokesman, Wayne Whitaker. Whitaker added that the state had a total of 28 deaths, between 2006 and 2009, that were caused by holiday, cooking-related fires.

"A lot of times, it's [caused by] people putting something on the stove, and turning the heat on, and going off and forgetting about it, or going into the living room, sitting down in the lazy chair and falling asleep," Whitaker said.

Information was not immediately available about whether there were any cooking-related fires in Clayton and Henry counties around Thanksgiving last year, according to Clayton County Fire and Emergency Services spokesman, Asst. Chief Landry Merkison, and Henry County Fire Department spokesperson, Capt. Sabrina Puckett.

Merkison and Puckett said, in addition to people needing to be attentive during cooking, they also need to be careful while deep-frying turkeys. Merkison said people should not deep fry turkeys on a deck, or in a garage, and they should also make sure ice and hot grease do not mix.

"The biggest thing is to make sure the turkey is completely, 100 percent thawed out and has no ice chips on it, because if ice chips get in the hot grease, it can cause big problems," Merkison said. "What happens is that if the turkey is not completely thawed out, and ice chips get in the water, it can cause the grease to boil faster and the grease will boil over the sides.

"Once that happens, the flames [from the fryer] will ignite the grease," Merkison added.

Oxendine's office offered several other tips people can use to prevent cooking-related fires, including:

* Never use a cooking stove to heat a home.

* Always set a timer when cooking, to prevent people from forgetting to turn off burners on a stove, or oven.

* Immediately cover a pan with a lid, if it catches fire, and turn off the stove's burner.

* Do not attempt to pour water onto a grease fire, because it could make the fire worse.

* Have a fire extinguisher readily available.

* Wear tight-fitting sleeves while cooking, because loose clothing can ignite into flames, if it comes into contact with a burner. If this happens, Oxendine's office recommends that people remember: "Stop, Drop and Roll." The steps for this include the person stopping where he, or she, is; covering his, or her, face with their hands, and rolling over to smother the flames.

* Install an adequate number of smoke alarms. Oxendine's office said most fatal fires begin between 11 p.m., and 6 a.m., and the warning provided by a smoke alarm could mean the difference between life and death. The insurance commissioner's office added that nine out of 10 fire victims are already dead, mainly from smoke and toxic gases, before the fire department is even called.

* Get out, and stay out, of the house, if the fire is too large for an extinguisher, and call the fire department from a neighbor's house.

* Have a well-rehearsed family escape plan, with two escape routes for all rooms, and a predetermined meeting place outside the house.