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Cook up a safe Thanksgiving

November 25, 2003|by SCOTT BUTKI

scottb@herald-mail.com

Thirty seconds is about the maximum time you have to put out a fire on the stove before the blaze burns out of control, Mike Weller, public educator for the City of Hagerstown Fire Department, said Monday.

If you can't extinguish a fire using a lid or a fire extinguisher within those 30 seconds, you should call 911, he said.

Weller and the Maryland State fire marshal are asking people to take precautions when preparing Thanksgiving meals to avoid common mistakes that can lead to house fires.

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About 40 percent of structure fires in Hagerstown are the result of unattended cooking fires, Weller said.

Unattended cooking fires have been the most common cause of fires in Hagerstown each year for the last 10 years, he said.

The city has been trying to reduce the number of such fires by convincing more people to install smoke detectors, keep them maintained and be aware of precautions that can be taken to avoid fires, he said.

About 80 percent of Hagerstown properties have working smoke detectors that are fewer than 10 years old, he said.

"We are making some progress, but it is painfully slow," Weller said.

He said one common mistake is that people turn the stove's heat to high, then leave the kitchen for various reasons.

Some people try to put out stove-top fires with baking soda and salt, but that is only marginally effective, he said. Using water also is a bad strategy, he said.

The best choice is to smother the fire with the contents of a fire extinguisher, he said.

"A fire extinguisher is like a spare tire; when you need it, you need it," he said. "It is like a jack. If you do not know how to use it, you can't change the tire. "

Weller said he has studied how people are injured in fires.

Men tend to throw water on the fire, while women tend to pick up a burning pan and try to carry it outside, he said. But when a fire gets more oxygen, when it is taken near a window or a door, for instance, it flares up, he said.

Before you start cooking, make sure the oven is clear, he said. Some people put objects inside the oven, and then someone else comes along and preheats the oven, not realizing there is a potential fire hazard inside, he said.

If a fire breaks out in the oven, turn off the heat and do not open the oven door, Weller said.

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