Take Extra Precautions in Kitchen During Holidays

There have been 20 cooking-related fires in Novato over the past five holiday seasons, including a fatality last year, so keep that extinguisher ready.

As it does every year, the Novato Fire District is issuing a safety warning about being extra careful in the kitchen during the holiday season. A fatality one year ago in Novato is a sobering reminder about taking these warnings seriously.

A Bel Marin Keys woman who was badly burned in a fire that started while she was cooking breakfast on Dec. 11, 2011, later died from her burns. Sharon Pritchett, 82, was cooking eggs for breakfast on her gas when the sleeve of her terry cloth bathrobe caught fire. Pritchett suffered second- and third-degree burns to 30 percent of her upper body. She died eight days later.

In an effort to prevent more holiday tragedies, the Novato Fire Marshal Bill Tyler and Cal Fire are asking residents to think twice before firing up a fryer or allowing yourself to be distracted in the kitchen.

Thanksgiving remains the leading day for home cooking fires with three times as many than on an average day, according to statistics compiled by the National Fire Protection Association.

The Novato Fire District responded to 20 cooking-related structure fires over the past five holiday seasons, Tyler said. Quick action by a cook can prevent a bigger emergency.

"Turn off the heating element and use a lid to smother the fire in a pan," Tyler said in a statement. "Have a fire extinguisher nearby and know how to use it. If there is a fire in your oven, turn off the oven and keep the door closed." 

For those planning to deep-fry a turkey, Cal Fire advises that fryers be used outdoors and not on wooden decks or in garages. Place the fryer on a clean and level surface a safe distance from buildings and other flammable materials. And don't forget that hot oil in a fryer poses a high burn risk to children who may not understand how a fryer works.

Tyler cited a National Fire Protection Association report that said for every household cooking fire reported, there were 50 that went unreported.

— Bay City News Service contributed to this report.

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