Holiday hazards: Avoid a mishap when you deep-fry a turkey or use a fresh Christmas tree

While the holiday season may be considered the most wonderful, decorative and satisfying (your belly) time of the year, it’s also a time when officials warn it could turn into one of the most dangerous times of the year – if you aren’t careful.

Typically, almost every year before Thanksgiving, local fire districts team up to deliver some very visual warnings. Demonstrations took place Friday morning at the Public Safety Operations Complex in Tampa. Firefighters from Hillsborough County, Tampa, Temple Terrace, and St. Petersburg covered a holiday safety topic.

First responders demonstrated common holiday hazards, including what could happen when you incorrectly deep-fry a turkey or fail to take proper care of a fresh Christmas tree.

Deep-frying a turkey

The star of the Thanksgiving table is usually the turkey, and the National Fire Protection Association strongly discourages using a turkey fryer to cook one. In 2017, U.S. fire departments responded to about 1,600 home cooking fires on Thanksgiving. Cooking equipment was involved in half of all reported home fires and home fire injuries, and it is the second leading cause of home fire deaths.

The NFPA believes the fryers that use cooking oil are not suitable for use at home – no matter how well-informed or careful the consumer may be. Turkey fryers typically use a substantial quality of oil at high temperatures. 

If you choose to deep-fry a turkey, here are some safety tips from Butterball: 

Deep-Frying Indoors
- Completely thaw your turkey, or use a fresh turkey
- Remove excess fat
- Add oil to the fryer, but don't exceed the maximum fill line. Preheat oil in the fryer to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Do not stuff the turkey when deep-frying. Cook the stuffing separately.
- Minimize sticking to the basket by submerging the empty basket in the hot oil for about 30 seconds, and remove and place turkey inside and submerge.
Additional tips here

Deep-Frying Outdoors
- There should be at least three to five inches from the fill line to the top of the pot so oil doesn't blow over.
- Take the wrapper off the turkey, then remove and discard the neck and giblets
- Use deep-fryer on a flat surface, far away from homes, garages, wooden decks, etc.
- Preheat oil in the fryer to 375 degrees
- Add oil to the fryer, based on the water line
- Pat turkey dry with paper towels
Additional tips here

General Home Cooking Tips, per NFPA:
- Stay in the kitchen when you are cooking on the stovetop so you can keep an eye on the food.
- Stay in the home when cooking your turkey and check on it frequently.
- Keep children away from the stove. The stove will be hot and kids should stay 3 feet away.
- Make sure kids stay away from hot food and liquids. The steam or splash from vegetables, gravy or coffee could cause serious burns.
- Keep the floor clear so you don’t trip over kids, toys, pocketbooks or bags.
- Keep knives out of the reach of children.
- Be sure electric cords from an electric knife, coffee maker, plate warmer or mixer are not dangling off the counter within easy reach of a child.
- Keep matches and utility lighters out of the reach of children — up high in a locked cabinet.
- Never leave children alone in room with a lit candle.
- Make sure your smoke alarms are working. Test them by pushing the test button.

Caring for a fresh Christmas tree

Christmas trees blamed for an average of 160 home fires annually between 2013 and 2017, according NFPA. Those fires resulted in an average of three deaths, 15 injuries and $10 million in property damage, the organization says.

To put it into further perspective, on average, one of every 52 reported home fires that began with a Christmas tree resulted in a death.

Experts say the risks can be minimized by following several simple steps, and the best way is to water the Christmas tree well every day to avoid drying out. Also, keep it away from heating sources and dispose of it soon after the holiday.