The National Fire Protection Association reports that unattended cooking is the number-one cause of home fires nationwide. Cooking equipment serves as the ignition point for 40 percent of all home fires, 17 percent of home fire deaths and 36 percent of home civilian injuries as a result of 150,200 home structure fires on average each year.
NPA also cites Thanksgiving as the peak day for home fires across the country. Cartersville Fire Marshall Mark Hathaway noted the department does not see an increase in structure fires at any time during the year, but the cause does follow national trends.
"For everything I've done, it seems our fires seem to stay pretty much even keel throughout the year. Nationally, fires seem to increase in the wintertime and during the holidays because there's more people cooking and you're cooking larger amounts, have decorations involved, but here in the city we don't typically see an increase this time of year," Hathaway said. "At this time of the year, and I guess pretty much throughout the rest of the year, unattended cooking fires are the number-one fire cause."
A lot of attention is paid at Thanksgiving to safety during the popular process of deep-frying turkey, which does cause injuries and damage each year, but the majority of fires throughout the year continue to occur with the most common of sources -- the stovetop.
While deep-fryers routinely cause fires each Thanksgiving from improper usage, they claim only 1 percent of cooking-equipment-related fires, civilian deaths and civilian injuries. Ranges and cooktops, however, cause 59 percent of all cooking equipment fires, 88 percent of civilian cooking equipment deaths and 77 percent of civilian injuries.
Hathaway noted that locally, cooking related fires tend to occur from stovetop items when the cook has left the room. Most commonly, he said, were incidents involving frying followed by items being left on the cooktop. He recommends that if the cook must leave the room, they should carry a spoon, spatula or some other cooking utensil as a reminder of what needs to be attended to in the kitchen.
As the weather turns cool, fire dangers also arise from supplemental heating sources. This concern is heightened when aging space heaters are used. Hathaway explained how older models do not include such features as tip-over switches and overheat kill-switches.
"Our main thing that we're concerned with this time of year is space heaters," Hathaway said. "The old ones that are still in use don't have the safety features that the new ones have. The chances of the later model ones setting a fire would be very slim because of the safety devices that are incorporated into them now."