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Deep-fried turkey fiascos can spoil Thankgiving

Keith Evrley, a retired fire chief in Taylorville, Ill., knows a lot about fire prevention and safety. But when he talks about the importance of being careful with turkey deep fryers, he draws more from personal than professional experience.

Five years ago, after hearing people rave about fried turkey, Evrley bought a deep fryer to prepare a meal for his family on Easter Sunday. He set up the fryer on his mother-in-law's back porch, began heating the oil and walked two houses away to gather his family. "I was probably gone four or five minutes," he recalls.

deep fried turkeyBut by the time he returned, the back of the house was on fire.

His story serves as a cautionary tale for anyone thinking about deep-frying a turkey this Thanksgiving. The National Fire Protection Association says deep-fryer fires kill five people in an average year, injure 60 others and cause more than $15 million in property damage.

Cooking fires flare up on Thanksgiving

More cooking fires occur on Thanksgiving than any other day of the year, and grease and cooking-related home insurance claims more than double on Thanksgiving Day, compared to an average day in November, according to State Farm.

Fortunately, no one was injured in Evrley's deep-frying fiasco. As soon as he saw the flames, he ran inside, helped his mother-in-law get out of the house and called 911. The fire quickly spread inside the home and it took firefighters several hours to put out the blaze. Evrley says the fire destroyed about a third of the house. His mother-in-law lived with his family for three months while the home was being repaired.

His advice to those intent on frying turkeys: "Stay with it," he says. "Don't leave it because you never know what the grease is going to do."

In his case, firefighters believe the oil overheated, melted the fire pot and exploded all over the patio.

Follow these other safety tips from State Farm and the Illinois Fire Service Institute to avoid common turkey deep-fryer mistakes that can lead to fires:

  • Don't overfill the fryer pot. Follow directions in the owner's manual to determine how much oil to use. If you overfill, the oil will overflow when you lower the turkey, spill on the burner and catch fire.
  • Thoroughly thaw the turkey before cooking. Placing a frozen or partially frozen turkey in a fryer can cause oil to splatter, seriously burning anyone standing nearby, and catching fire when coming into contact with the burner.
  • When cooking outdoors, stay away from any structures or flammable materials. More than a third of fryer-related fires start in a garage or on a patio.
  • Don't use water or ice to cool the oil or try to put out a grease fire. Contact with water or ice causes cause oil to splatter and spread. Keep a fire extinguisher handy for putting out grease fires.

Most turkey fryer fires are preventable, although Evrley admits he hasn't been tempted to fry a turkey since the blaze at his mother-in-law's home. He also agreed to be the "poster child" for State Farm on how to avoid turkey-fryer fires.

"If it saves somebody from doing something like I did, I'm glad to talk about it," he says.

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