Turkey fry gone wrong: McAllen firefighters offer safety tips for Thanksgiving

McALLEN — It’s all too easy to have a cooking accident, and with the arrival of one of the year’s biggest holidays for cooking, the McAllen fire department is offering tips for how to stay safe inside and outside the kitchen.

McAllen firefighters showed what could go wrong for those attempting to fry a turkey by displaying what not to do during a demonstration Tuesday morning.

Standing outside the McAllen fire department’s training facility, Mark Zamora, the department’s public education officer, lowered a frozen turkey into a pot that was overfilled with oil, about an inch from the rim.

Edinburg assistant fire chief Antonio Salazar very cautiously places an 18-pound turkey into a vat of oil that has been heated to 375 degree in a 2021 file photo. (Delcia Lopez | [email protected])

As the turkey sank into the pot, the oil began to overflow, making contact with the flame and causing a flare up.

“Always call the fire department when this happens even though the flames do go out,” Zamora said. “And be sure to turn off the valve because that is the heating source.”

To avoid such flare ups, Zamora offered some tips to follow.

“Some of the preventable measures that someone can take while frying a turkey is make sure you fry your turkey at least 10 feet away from a structure, reduce the tripping hazards around that area — we like to have a 3-foot, kids free zone around any cooking area, be that the kitchen or wherever you’re cooking,” Zamora said.

The fire department also suggests:

>> set the fryer on flat ground;

>> avoid oil with high smoke point;

>> measure oil accurately;

>> use a temperature gauge;

>> turn off the flame before dipping the turkey;

>> and not to fry a wet or frozen turkey — it should be completely thawed out.

Zamora also offered fire safety tips for cooking inside the kitchen.

“In the kitchen, the oven shouldn’t be a place where we store any pots, pans — sometimes I even hear of tupperware being stored in the oven,” he said. “That’s a big no no.”

That causes problems when people preheat the oven and forget to remove those items from inside it.

“So be sure that it’s clear, and with the oven, be sure that it’s clean of any oil or grease,” Zamora said. “When you put a turkey in the oven, be sure you have a dish that’s going to be deep enough to collect the juices that come out of the turkey.”

He also suggested a 3-foot clearance of children and pets inside the kitchen.

“It has happened with cats coming up onto the stove or dogs hitting the knobs and turning on the stove itself,” he said. “Those are some of the things that we’ve seen.”

In the last five Thanksgivings, the McAllen Fire Department has only responded to one cooking incident.

“That’s not to say that they don’t occur during the holidays,” Zamora said. “We do have cooking incidents and actually, from what we saw in the month of December, in the Christmastime, is those cooking incidents rise.”

Zamora also noted that 50% of all residential fires start in the kitchen, which is why, he said, it’s important to stress the preventative measures people can take in the kitchen.

Those include:

>> never leave cooking appliances unattended;

>> remember that water and grease do not mix;

>> have a multi-purpose fire extinguisher on hand;

>> ensure smoke alarms are working properly.

Regarding the fire extinguishers, Zamora said to be aware that they are pressurized and there’s a recommended space to use a fire extinguisher — usually about eight to ten feet, but people should refer to the fire extinguisher for an accurate distance.

As for the smoke alarms, he said smoke alarms that are more than 10 years old should be replaced, and if you’re going to have them in the kitchen, it is recommended to have them 10 feet away from the stove. Otherwise, the alarm will go off more often than one would like.

“What tends to happen from speaking with the public is they’ll either just take out the battery or remove the device because it’s become a nuisance at that point,” he said.

And if a fire does occur?

“What people can do is, you have a couple of options here,” Zamora said. “You can put a lid on a pot and that will chuck out the flames.”

“If you have a fire in the oven, don’t open it and leave it open — close it,” he added. “It’ll reduce the flames and it actually will, more than likely, put it out as well.”

He added, “Always call the fire department, even if the fire’s out. Once the fire is out, make sure you secure the heating source via unplugging any appliances, turning off the knobs or even going to the breaker and shutting off the power.”