Holiday dinner

To keep the holidays festive instead of tragic, safety officials are asking that people take precautions against avoidable holiday disasters.

And the winter holidays are often some of the worst when it comes to fires and injuries.

According to the American Red Cross, there are nearly 47,000 fires in the United States during the months of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

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On average, one in every 22 home fire started by Christmas trees result in at least one death, according to the Red Cross.

Fires that start because of a candle are four times more likely during the winter holidays because many more people use them as part of their holiday decorations.

During the winter holidays an average of 40 home fires a day are caused by children playing, according the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross offers some common sense advice to reduce the risk of home fires.

• Place Christmas trees, candles, and other holiday decorations at least three feet away from heat sources like fireplaces, portable heaters, radiators, heat vents and candles.

• Purchase flame retardant metallic or artificial trees. If you purchase a live tree, make sure that it has fresh, green needles that aren’t easily broken. Keep live trees as moist as possible by giving them plenty of water.

• Make sure that light strings and other holiday decorations are in good condition. Do not use anything with frayed electrical cords and always follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

• Always unplug tree and holiday lights before leaving home or going to bed. Never use lit candles to decorate a tree. Always extinguish candles before leaving the room or going to bed.

• Use only sturdy tree stands designed not to tip over. Keep curious pets and children away from Christmas trees.

• Keep anything that can catch on fire — pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains — away from your stove top.

• Designate one person to walk around your home to make sure that all candles and smoking materials are properly extinguished after guests leave.

• Smoke alarms save lives. A smoke alarm reduces the risk of death because of a fire by nearly half. Install a smoke alarm near your kitchen, on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms.

But it isn’t only the risk of home fires that comes with the holidays, according to the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission.

On average, there are about 160 decorating-related injuries each day during the holiday season, with almost half of the incidents involving falls, according to the safety commission. In the 2019 holiday season, about 14,800 people were treated in emergency rooms due to holiday decorating-related injuries.

The safety commission also asks that you give some thought to your Christmas gifts.

That’s because in 2020 there were nearly 150,000 toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries.

Nonmotorized scooters accounted for 21% of all toy-related, emergency department-treated injuries, according to the safety commission. 

The number of scooter injuries increased 17% in fiscal year 2021, from 35,600 scooter injuries reported in 2020, to 41,700 injuries reported in 2021. 

Meanwhile, the safety commission also warns about the risk of cooking fires.

• Cooking fires remain the number one cause of residential fires. The safety commission reports that there are about 360,000 home fires every year, resulting in about 2,400 deaths and nearly 10,400 injuries each year.

• The worst cooking fire day is Thanksgiving. That’s because an average of 1,700 cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving Day each year, three times the average number of cooking fires on any other day of the year.

As Thanksgiving Day fires continue to surpass most others days, turkey deep fryers are growing in popularity.

Fire departments across the country respond to more than 1,000 fires involving deep fryers each year, resulting in an average of five deaths, 60 injuries, the destruction of 900 homes and more than $15 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association. 

The National Fire Protection Association has released a list of what to avoid when using turkey fryers. 

  • A hot oil spill can happen with fryers designed for outdoor use using a stand. The fryer could tip over or collapse causing the hot oil to spill. Newer countertop units using a solid base appear to reduce this risk. NFPA does not believe the risks of either type of turkey fryer to be acceptable because of the large amount of hot oil involved and around the speed and severity of burns. 
  • In deep frying, oil is heated to temperatures of 350° or more. Cooking oil is combustible. If it is heated above its cooking temperature, its vapors can ignite. 
  • Propane-fired turkey fryers must be used outdoors. They are very popular for Thanksgiving. If rain hits the hot cooking oil, the oil may splatter or turn to steam, leading to burns. 
  • Turkeys must be completely thawed before placing in the fryer, a partially thawed turkey will cause the oil to splatter causing serious burns.
  • The fryers use a lot of oil, usually about five gallons. Extreme caution must be taken when placing and removing the turkey from the fryer to be sure it’s is not dropped back into the fryer, splattering the oil on the chef. 

Contact Chronicle reporter Fred Hiers at fred.hiers@chronicleonline.com or 352-397-5914.