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How to make sure a fire doesn’t ruin your holiday celebration

Nov. 19, 2020

Flames shooting out of a cooking fire demonstration trailer
St. Paul Firefighter Jeremy Berger shows what happens when you pour less than one cup of water on a grease fire.


The holidays and the pandemic make strange companions. Perhaps Aunt Belinda isn’t flying in for the festivities this year. Maybe you’ll only be on a video call with your brother’s family across town. But if you’re still planning on cooking a holiday meal, there are some precautions you’ll want to keep in mind.

This time of year is the busiest for fires in Minnesota. During the holidays, people are doing more cooking than usual, keeping the cold out by heating their homes with alternate heat sources, and lighting candles for atmosphere or ceremonies. These activities happen to be the three leading causes of house fires: cooking, heating and open flames. In fact, over half of all the fires in Minnesota in 2019 started in the kitchen.

Fortunately, there are some simple precautions you can take to avoid making the local fire service part of your holiday guest list (although they’re lovely people and would probably be fun to have a meal with). For one thing, stay close to what you’re cooking, no matter what it is. If it’s on the stove, stay in the kitchen. If it’s in the oven, set a timer so you don’t forget to check on it.

Keep anything that can burn at least 3 feet from the stove. It seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be amazed at how many combustible things can be found in kitchens: dish towels, wooden spoons, your grandmother’s recipe card for her famous pumpkin pie, you name it. It all needs to be well away from any source of heat.

If the worst happens and a grease fire starts, skip the water, flour and fire extinguisher. All of these things could spatter the flaming grease and spread the fire more quickly. Instead, you need to starve the grease fire from the oxygen it needs to keep burning. Turn off the heat under the pan, then get a lid or baking sheet and place it tightly on top. After that, don’t move the pan. Let it sit for at least 30 minutes. If you’re avoiding the oven and deep-frying your Turkey Day bird, follow these steps:

  • Make sure the fryer is stable. If your fryer tips over or oil spills out, it will cause an instant fire. 

  • Do not overfill the fryer with oil. Even a small amount of spilled oil can cause a large fire. 

  • Use temperature controls so the oil doesn’t overheat and catch fire.

  • Do not put a frozen or wet turkey into hot oil.

  • Use the fryer outdoors, never in your garage, on your deck or in your kitchen.

  • Never leave the bird unattended.

One more thing: Before you even start cooking at all, test your smoke and carbon monoxide alarms. They’re invaluable to the safety of you and your loved ones, but only if they work.

For more information on fire safety around the holidays, check out our Holiday Fire Safety and Cooking Safety fact sheets. And remember, whether there are one or 20 people at your holiday table this year, keeping them safe from fires is paramount.