Michigan state fire marshal: Thanksgiving is top day for home cooking fires


DETROIT – The Michigan fire marshal is urging residents to stay safe in the kitchen during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

After all, Thanksgiving Day is historically the leading day for home cooking fires in Michigan, according to State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer. Anyone using portable deep fryers to cook turkeys should know the dangers involved and consider an oil-less fryer which is a safer alternative to cook their turkey, the fire marshal said. 

Sehlmeyer emphasizes that portable propane fueled turkey fryers, a popular and faster cooking method for your Thanksgiving turkey, poses a considerable fire risk if not done correctly.

“Incorrect methods of deep frying a turkey in several gallons of hot oil over 350 degrees is as flammable as gasoline, if the cooking oil vapors ignite,” said Sehlmeyer. “Never use a portable deep fryer in a garage, on or under a deck, breezeway, porch or inside any structure. Improperly deep frying turkeys can be dangerous and accounts for the high number of house and garage fires reported each year.” According to the National Fire Protection Association, portable deep fryers that use oil, as currently designed, are not suitable for acceptably safe use by even well-informed and careful consumers.

According to the Michigan Bureau of Fire Services, portable deep fryers use a lot of oil, and vapors coming off the heated cooking oil is highly combustible. Care must be used to not overfill the cooking oil in a portable deep fryer or you will get splash-back and boil over when immersing the turkey. Grease fires commonly start with cooking oil spilling over the sides of the fryer onto the flames below. Vapors can ignite if the unit is heated beyond its cooking temperature of 350 degrees. If rain or snow hits the hot cooking oil, the cooking oil may splatter or turn to steam that can lead to burns.

"Unattended cooking is the leading cause of residential fires, especially on Thanksgiving when busy cooks can be distracted," said Sehlmeyer. "Never leave cooking unattended, not even for a second. Cooking fires can easily be prevented by following a few simple precautions."

The Bureau of Fire Services offers these precautions to take when using a portable propane deep fryer:

  • Read and follow the manufacturer's user guide.
  • Always use the portable deep fryer on a flat surface, well away from houses, garages, decks, trees, bushes and other outdoor hazards.
  • Use a portable deep fryer with a gas valve controller.
  • Make sure your turkey is completely thawed and dry the turkey prior to putting it in the fryer. Extra water or placing a frozen turkey in the fryer will cause the cooking oil to bubble and spill over.
  • Never leave the portable deep fryer unattended.
  • Keep children and pets away from the portable deep fryer. 
  • Allow at least two (2) feet of space between the liquid propane tank and the portable deep fryer burner.
  • ONLY use cooking oil recommended by the deep fryer manufacturer. Do not use cheaper or different types of cooking oil for the portable deep fryer because the cooking oils have different ignition temperatures when heated.
  • Do not overfill the portable deep fryer with cooking oil that can result in the overflow of the cooking oil and a flash fire when immersing the turkey into the cooking oil.
  • Use well-insulated potholders or oven mitts as the deep fryer lid and handle can become very hot; wear safety goggles to protect eyes from cooking oil splatter.
  • Be careful with marinades. Cooking oil and water do not mix and water causes the cooking oil to spill over, causing a fire or even an explosion hazard during cooking oil boil over.
  • If the cooking oil begins to smoke, immediately turn the propane tank to OFF by closing the propane tank valve.
  • Keep a fire extinguisher (dry-powder) ready at all times. NEVER use water to extinguish a cooking oil or grease fire.

Michiganders also are reminded to test the smoke alarms of elderly family members when visiting them during the Thanksgiving holiday. The Michigan Community Risk Reduction Task Force has identified that people over the age of 60 are at the greatest risk to die in residential fires in Michigan according to fire reports submitted for 2017-2018. 

The state provides these methods to reduce your chance of dying in a fire:

  • Check each smoke alarm monthly.
  • Change smoke alarms every 10 years.
  • Change the batteries in 9volt smoke alarms every six (6) months.
  • Your home should have a smoke alarm on every level and in every sleeping area.

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