Cary firefighters show what can go wrong with flame during the holidays

sgilman@newsobserver.comNovember 21, 2013 

  • Holiday safety tips

    For the turkey

    • Keep cooking oil at 350 degrees Fahrenheit to prevent combustion.

    • Keep fryer on a flat surface.

    • Keep propane-fired turkey fryers outdoors.

    • Completely thaw turkeys before frying.

    • Use extreme caution when placing and removing turkey from the fryer.

    For the tree

    • Choose a tree with fresh, green needles.

    • Keep the tree at least 3 feet away from heat sources such as candles or heat vents.

    • Water the tree daily.

    • Replace broken Christmas lights on the tree, and never use candles on the tree.

    • Turn off Christmas tree lights before going to bed or leaving home.

— They did everything wrong, but on purpose.

The Cary Fire Department set fire to a full-sized turkey and a small Christmas tree on Wednesday to demonstrate what can happen when people break holiday safety rules.

The tree was dry, and the turkey, which should have been completely thawed and dried, was partially thawed and wet. The aluminum pot was overfilled with peanut oil and heated to more than 500 degrees Fahrenheit, about 150 degrees higher than the safe temperature.

“What happens is people don’t pay attention, and you get it over 500 degrees, and it’s going to flash,” said battalion Chief Barry Jones.

The results were infernal blazes approached only by firefighters in full personal protective equipment.

Flames were already curling around the edge of the turkey fryer when a firefighter removed the lid. A second firefighter dropped in the wet turkey from the end of a pole. Flames engulfed the entire operation.

A few minutes later, a firefighter lit shredded paper in a bucket next to the tree. In 30 seconds, the tree was consumed in tall, crackling flames. Within a minute and a half, only a smoking trunk remained.

“Just imagine if that had been around some presents,” said Kathy Ellis, the town’s fire education supervisor.

Cary has not seen many fires caused by turkey or tree ignition; Jones said he recalled one that occurred two years ago.

“It’s not very common,” he said. “Most people are very vigilant about it.”

That doesn’t stop the fire department from holding its annual turkey and tree fire demonstration. In fact, Ellis attributed the scarcity of such fires to the department’s “proactive” stance on prevention.

“We do think we have an impact on the number of structure fires, and we are very proud of that,” she said. “We hope we don’t have any this year. We want everyone to have a safe and happy holiday.”

Gilman: 919-829-8955

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