Thanksgiving is a time to enjoy family and friends and show appreciation for what people have.
Unfortunately, it can also be a time of tragedy for many Americans.
According to the N.C. Highway Patrol, the Tar Heel State had 1,923 traffic accidents during the holiday last year; 453 of these resulted in injuries, with 17 people dying.
According to the National Fire Prevention Association, on the average day across America there are 490 kitchen fires caused by cooking. The day before Thanksgiving that number jumps to 860, then on the holiday itself it doubles again to 1,760.
Cooking fires lead to an average of 10 deaths, 50 injuries and $28 million in property damage.
That 1,760 fires figure is a recent stat as it came from 2015, noted Zane Poindexter, city fire chief.
Thanksgiving Eve, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day mark the four highest days of the year for kitchen fires, Poindexter said.
Unattended stovetop cooking and turkey fryers loom as the greatest hazards, but worn appliance cords and overloaded outlets present fire and shock hazards to avoid as well.
“Always watch what you heat,” said the fire chief. “Even if it is just boiling water, keep an eye on it.”
He recalled one fire where the man trying to cook had been doing a little holiday drinking, sat down to wait for the food and passed out. Another time a man put cooking oil on to heat, reached in the fridge for food and saw he was out. He went to the store for supplies and forgot to turn the burner off.
Two decades ago, a Mount Airy News employee lost her home to a fire when her son was frying bacon. He said he heard the dogs outside suddenly going crazy and rushed outside to see what was wrong. When he came back in, the window drapes had caught fire and spread flames up to the ceiling.
With senior citizens, a common issue comes from not having enough storage space in cabinets for everything in the kitchen, said Poindexter. The countertops and even the top of the stove can be covered in cooking supplies. A stove with four eyes might only have one usable as the other three could be covered with boxes of food stuffs such as oatmeal and macaroni and cheese.
If the cook reaches for the wrong dial and turns on the wrong burner, the cardboard boxes can be ignited.
The fire chief said he goes to RidgeCrest retirement community once a year to give a fire safety talk to residents.
As for deep frying turkeys, many fire associations discourage the practice altogether.
Poindexter said his family has used fryers before, but people should make sure there is no open flame. The kind with the electric element to heat the oil is much safer.
The act of heating the oil means it is close to its flash point already, he said. So all the grease needs is an open flame to cause it to ignite.
Some families have a tradition of putting up Christmas decorations over the Thanksgiving weekend, and that brings a whole new set of worries.
“Dry trees will burn like gasoline,” said Poindexter. “It’s very scary. Artificial trees are safer, but they will still burn.”
When buying a tree on a lot, give a twig a test bend. If it breaks instead of bending, then the tree is already too dry so don’t buy that one, he suggested.
Once the tree is home, go ahead and give the tree a fresh cut across the bottom, he said. That first cut might have been days ago, and resin will have sealed over the cut so that water can’t be absorbed into the trunk.
Also, tree farmers tend to give trees a perpendicular cut so they stand up straight, but a slight angle has been found to help trees absorb water better.
When it comes to putting lights on the trees and stringing around the home, the bulbs aren’t as dangerous as they used to be, he said. The newer LED lights use less electricity and don’t get hot like the old bulbs.
If anyone is using a string of the old lights that get warm, he said the line should be plugged into a surge protector to protect the breaker or fuse, especially if multiple lines are being used.
The same holds true for using space heaters, he said. Some families use more than one in a house, and that draws a lot of power. It can overload a circuit and kick off a breaker. A lot of houses in this area still have fuses, and those heaters can blow a fuse, so it’s best to use surge protectors for them as well.
As always with space heaters and candles, give them plenty of clearance on all sides so nothing adjacent can catch fire.
AAA reports that nearly 51 million Americans will journey 50 miles or more away from home, with 89 percent traveling by vehicle.
“As we approach this busy travel time across our state, we encourage everyone to think of the importance of traffic safety,” said Colonel Glenn M. McNeill Jr., commander of the N.C. Highway Patrol. “The goal of our agency is to ensure everyone spends this Thanksgiving enjoying time with friends and family, while we work together to avoid the consequences of being involved in a serious vehicle collision.”
Starting at 11 a.m. today, the Highway Patrol will have heavy visibility along Interstate 40 as part of a nationwide campaign called the I-40 Thanksgiving Challenge.
Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and California also will ramp up trooper coverage along the 2,555 miles of the highway in the hopes of reducing accidents and preventing fatalities.
McNeill said that this state had zero deaths along I-40 during this two-day campaign last year.
This initiative involves stationing troopers every 20 miles for the most heavily traveled periods. The operation will be held from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. today (figuring this is when families are traveling away from home). Then the program picks up again from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday (when people are headed home).
”The constant visibility from state to state will hopefully create a safe driving environment for all motorists and most importantly save lives and prevent injuries,” said McNeill.
Travelers can contribute to highway safety by reporting dangerous drivers via dialing *HP or (*47) on a cellular phone. Callers should give the description of the vehicle, location, direction of travel and license plate number if at all possible.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692.