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Thanksgiving tops the list for home fires: here’s how to stay safe

By heeding a few simple fire safety rules, like keeping an eye on the turkey, you can have a hazard-free holiday.

It wouldn’t be the holidays without candles on the table, mantle or menorah. But according to the National Fire Protection Association, the holidays – as merry and bright as they are – also can pose a serious safety threat.

National estimates of reported home structure fires derived from the U.S. Fire Administration’s National Fire Incident Reporting System and the NFPA’s annual fire department experience survey* show that decorations, excluding Christmas trees, were the item first ignited in an estimated average of 860 reported home structure fires per year, resulting in an annual average of one civilian fire death, 41 civilian fire injuries and $13.4 million in direct property damage.

In 45 percent of those fires, the decoration was too close to a heat source such as a candle or some type of heat-emitting equipment. In fact, candles were the heat source in 38 percent of the fires.

It’s not surprising that decoration fires peak in December. But it may surprise you that 20 percent of decoration fires start in the kitchen. On average, about 17 percent start in the living room, family room or den, according to NFPA data.

Cooking is another fire safety culprit with Thanksgiving ranking at the top of the list for home fires involving cooking equipment, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve.

But take heart, following a few simple tips can ensure a fire-safe and beautiful holiday season.

The NFPA suggests:

• Stay in the kitchen when cooking so you can keep a close eye on the food, especially when frying and sauteing with oil.

• When cooking a meal that takes a long time like roasting a turkey or baking a roast, check it frequently. And use a timer. Consider putting timers in different rooms so you can hear it over  music and party chatter.

• Be alert and focused when cooking. It’s easy to get distracted when there is a lot of activity going on around you. If you’re sleepy or have had an extra glass of eggnog or two, ask others to take over in the kitchen to help minimize the risk of injury. Or save that glass of wine to have during dinner or after you’ve cleared the table and washed dishes.

• Make sure kids stay at least 3 feet away from the stove and oven, hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.

• Clear the area. Too many people, kitchen gadgets and even little ones with toys can make for a dangerous environment – one in which it’s easy to trip or accidentally place something flammable, such as oven mitts, wooden utensils, food wrappers and towels, too close to the cook top or a candle.

• Keep matches and utility lighters out of reach of children.

• Secure cords from electric knives, the coffee maker, plate warmer, mixer and other cooking equipment at the far end of counters so no one accidentally pulls them off the edge.

When decorating:

• Choose decorations that are flame resistant or flame retardant.

• Be care to choose the right light for the job. Some are for outdoor use, some are for indoor use – don’t get them confused.

• Don’t overload the circuit. Be sure to read the manufacturer’s instructions for the number of light strands that can be connected safely.

• Test your smoke detectors and have a fire escape plan.

When entertaining:

• Place candles, hot plates and chafing dishes well out of the reach of children and pets.

• Ask smokers to smoke outside. Be sure to provide deep ashtrays, preferably with wet sand at the bottom.

• Never leave candles or children unattended. Always turn off holiday decorations and blow out all candles before heading to bed.

*2009-2013 data

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