An unattended turkey can cook your goose

Local fire officials offer tips for a safe, fire-free Thanksgiving

By Paul Suarez, Columbian web producer

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That juicy, deep-fried Thanksgiving turkey isn't going to taste so good if you burn down the house cooking it.

According to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, there are about 2,000 fires reported to fire departments each year on Thanksgiving. The fires cause an average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $21 million in property damage, the agency reports. Fires typically happen between noon and 4 p.m. and are primarily caused by cooking.

Local firefighters offered a few tips to minimize the risk in cooking your bird.

"It's always a good practice to stay in the kitchen while you're cooking," said Capt. David James, a spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department.

James said he's been on several Thanksgiving day fires in his career. Most of them started on the range or in the oven. Common causes, according to James are: leaving pans unattended on the range, oil spilling on gas burners and not cleaning the oven before cooking the turkey.

He also suggests keeping a lid close by when cooking things on the stove. That way if something catches fire, you can put a lid on the pan to smother the fire. Splashing water can spread the fire, he said.

Deep-fried dangers

As for turkey fryers, James recommends using them outside, away from any building. It's not always an easy thing to do with local weather, he said.

Clark County Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Tim Dawdy said most turkey fryer fires are started by oil splashing onto a burner. That's bad news for people cooking in the garage, where there are many combustible items, he said.

To avoid overfilling a fryer, Vancouver Capt. James recommends you put the turkey in the pot, then fill it with water so the turkey is covered by one or two inches. Take the turkey out and mark the water line. That's how much oil you'll need to safely cook, he said.

Both Dawdy and James recommend keeping an eye on the fryer while it is on and keeping children and pets away. James also said people should remember that oil will be hot for quite a while after the burner is turned off.

Dawdy and Clark County Fire District 6 Chief Jerry Green also say the threat of candle fires increases during the holidays.

Green says people should make sure candles are snuffed before people leave a room. Children shouldn't have access to them and they should be kept away from combustibles, he said.

Dawdy said a lot of fires start when clothing comes in contact with fires or people fall asleep with candles lit.

"I know that they're fun and they give atmosphere," he said, but it would be much safer to use LED candles.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops;paul.suarez@columbian.com.