Scarborough Fire Chief Thurlow

As we approach the beginning of the holiday season it is important for everyone to remain particularly vigilant in terms of fire safety. The U.S. Fire Administration recently released a report regarding Thanksgiving fire incidents that is worth sharing.

In an average year, fire departments report over 2,000 fires in residential buildings on Thanksgiving Day. Those 2,000 incidents cause an average five5 deaths, 25 injuries, and $21 million in property losses. As you might expect 69 percent of those fires are relatively small cooking fires. As you might also expect these fires most often occur between noon and 4 p.m., peaking between noon and 1 p.m. The three main causes of Thanksgiving Day fires are carelessness or unintentional actions, combustible materials too close to open flames, and electrical malfunctions.

So now that we know what the problem is, how can we be proactive and prevent fires in our own homes? Let’s start with carelessness and unintentional actions. As we all know this is a busy time of year and when you are preparing for a big family affair like the Thanksgiving dinner it is in some ways an unusual event. We tend to try to juggle more things than normal as we rush to be ready at a certain time. We are distracted by visitors, children, pets, and a variety of holiday activities. We often leave items cooking on the stove while unattended so we can set the table, clean-up or make other preparations.

As anyone who has ever had a fire in their home knows, it only takes a second for things to go wrong. One of the best ways to prevent a disaster is to have a plan. Start early, prepare as much as you can earlier in the day so you are just finishing it off as dinner time approaches. Monitor what is going on in the kitchen. Try not to leave things cooking on the stove unattended. Know how to handle a small grease fire by covering it to smother the flames, instead of throwing water on it and making it worse.

Dealing with combustible materials too close to open flames seems like common sense, but it is amazing how many fires we respond to and find paperwork, bills, napkins, cook books, and a variety of combustible materials right on the counter next to the burners of the stove. Open candles are another area of concern that falls in this category. Many families enjoy burning scented candles during the holidays and even on the dinner table. We always recommend that open flames be covered to prevent accidental contact with combustibles. Never leave candles burning anywhere when no one is in the room, and always make sure curtains, napkins, table cloths and anything that could catch fire is well away from the flame.

Finally in terms of electrical malfunctions the most common problem we find is improper use of extension cords. When choosing an extension cord make sure it is a listed cord that has been certified and tested by a third party independent lab like UL or FM. Make sure it has a three prong plug with the appropriate ground. Use extension cords carefully by not covering them with carpet or anything where people may walk over and damage the cord. Use extension cords only as a temporary source of power, not as a permanent solution. Routinely check the condition of the electrical cord to make sure there are no kinks, breaks, cuts, or other damage.

Thanksgiving and the rest of the holiday season is a wonderful time to enjoy family and friends but it requires extra caution this year, not only for fire safety but due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Please be careful about large gatherings, wear your face coverings, and spend a few minutes considering and implementing these simple fire safety recommendations to make sure you don’t become one of the Thanksgiving Day statistics this year. Be safe and enjoy the upcoming holiday season.

If you have any questions about any fire department issue please feel free to contact me at [email protected] or 730-4201.

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