‘Tis the season … for house fires. According to the National Fire Incident Reporting System, the risk of home fires rises during the fall and winter months:
905 people die in winter home fires each year.
$2.1 billion in property loss occurs from winter home fires.
67 percent of winter fires occur in one- and two-Family homes.
Cooking is the leading cause of all winter home fires.
5 to 8 p.m. is the most common time for winter home fires.
Fort Bragg also sees a surge in the number of home fires during the holiday season, said Kenny Lamey, fire prevention chief, Fort Bragg Fire and Emergency Services.
Thanksgiving is the start of the high-risk season and Lamey said many people increase the possibility of a dangerous fire when they fry turkeys in deep fat fryers.
“They are very unstable,” said Lamey. “You’ve got 3 to 5 gallons of boiling oil that you’re going to dip this turkey in and if you knock that thing over, it’s really bad.”
Spilled cooking oil is one of the most hazardous results of frying a turkey, according to the U.S. Fire Administration. Other hazards include the lack of thermostat controls on a deep fryer, which can cause the oil to overheat, and the danger of extremely hot pot handles and lid on the fryer.
Lamey emphasized the importance of following the manufacturer’s instructions when frying a turkey. He recommends placing the fryer on a level, stable surface and never leaving the fryer unattended.
Cooking is the number one cause of home fires nationally and here on the installation. Lamey said cooking fires naturally increase during the holidays because people are cooking more. The annual statistics for 2006-2010 from the USFA provide more detail on the cause of cooking fires, for example:
Unattended cooking was by far the leading factor in home cooking fires.
Two-thirds of home cooking fires started when food or other cooking materials caught fire.
Clothing was the item first ignited in less than one percent of these fires, but these incidents accounted for 16 percent of the cooking fire deaths.
Ranges accounted for the largest share (58 percent) of home cooking fire incidents. Ovens accounted for 16 percent.
Three, of every five reported, non-fatal home cooking fire injuries occurred when the victims tried to fight the fire themselves.
Frying poses the greatest risk of fire.
Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires.
One simple way to combat fires on the stove is to always have a lid handy that fits the cooking vessel, said Lamey.
“That’s the number one thing you can do — whatever it is, if it catches on fire, take the lid, put it on there, turn the stove off and don’t touch it,” he said. “Just leave it alone. It’s going to burn all the oxygen out of that container, so the fire has to go out.”
After placing a lid on the pan and turning off the stove, calling the fire department is imperative.
“Call 911 immediately regardless of how small the fire is and let us come check your house,” Lamey said. “The problem that people don’t understand is that you can have fire extension.”
Lamey said a fire extension could result in a tiny fire in a vent or attic that can eventually engulf the entire area. His team has tools, such as thermal imaging cameras, that allow them to check blocked-off spaces.
After Thanksgiving cooking, Lamey said the fire department’s biggest concern is Christmas trees. Businesses on Fort Bragg must use artificial trees, but Lamey said Families in Fort Bragg housing are permitted to have live trees.
“If you do use a real tree, we recommend all the steps on adequate watering, making sure you have good decorations ... you don’t have grandma’s decorations that are 50 years old, that type of thing.”
Older decorations and lights with melted plugs and frayed cords can result in fires, said Lamey. He recommends using LED lights because they are much cooler than older versions of Christmas lights and never going to bed without turning off all Christmas lights.
Military installations have many storied Christmas traditions, including placing candles in trees, but Lamey emphatically cautions against this practice. “It’s just not a good idea,” he said.
Many neighborhoods also hold holiday home-decorating contests where residents will use dozens of light strands to light up their homes. If residents choose to participate in this practice, Lamey advises them to check their cords.
“Make sure your cord is rated for what you want to do, make sure it’s in good service, and don’t plug multiple cords into one outlet because it will overload the cords and they will melt.”
He also said that people should watch their animals around holiday decorations because they can chew on cords and Christmas tree lightbulbs.
Lamey stressed that the most important fire-prevention technique for home fires is to never leave a heating element or fire unattended.
“That’s all we ask the public to do — just use some precaution, use some common sense,” he said.