Firefighters reveal how deep-frying frozen Thanksgiving turkeys poses explosive risks

Firefighters reveal how deep-frying frozen Thanksgiving turkeys poses explosive risks

Fire departments throughout the country are reminding the public that Thanksgiving turkeys destined for deep-frying should be completely thawed and dried before they’re submerged in vats of boiling oil.

Failing to do so will result in a fiery explosion that can cause serious harm to Thanksgiving cooks and bystanders, according to experts.

The dangerous chemical reaction between water and oil has been documented by fire safety and prevention professionals for years, and 2022 is no exception.

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The Colorado Springs (Colorado) Fire Department Public Information Office shared a video on Friday that showed how quickly a fire can spread if someone submerged a frozen turkey in oil while indoors. The flames quickly shot up to the structure’s ceiling and flared, the department’s 26-second clip demonstrated.

Whole turkeys gets deep-fried
Deep-fried turkey is a Thanksgiving staple for some Americans.

"Never fry a turkey inside your home or garage. Do not overfill your fryer with oil. Always ensure your turkey is completely thawed before frying," the Colorado Springs Fire Department wrote alongside the tweeted video.

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The Stafford County Fire & Rescue in Virginia reshared its "Avoiding Turkey Fryer Fires" YouTube video from 2021 on social media this year to raise awareness about the dangers of deep-frying frozen turkeys.

The fire department demonstrated the fiery reaction with a fully equipped firefighter using a release catchpole to dip a whole frozen turkey into an outdoor propane fryer.

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The flames engulfed the fryer within the controlled setup (avoiding the propane tank) and rose high in the sky.

In the video, one of the Stafford County Fire & Rescue’s firefighters said propane or gas fryers should be placed away from homes, house decks, trees, bushes and vegetation.

"You want it in the middle of an area where nothing's going to catch on fire," the firefighter said.

Stafford County Fire & Rescue is also warning the public that grilling, microwaving and smoking frozen turkeys can yield dangerous results as well.

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However, roasting a frozen turkey is considered "safe," according to the fire department.

Stafford County Fire & Rescue said frozen Thanksgiving turkeys typically require about a day of thawing for every four to five pounds.

While fire departments routinely warn people of the dangers that come with deep-frying a frozen turkey, not many have explained why this occurs.

Dr. Kristine Nolin, an associate professor of chemistry at the University of Richmond, explained the chemical reaction between water and oil in layman’s terms during an interview with "PBS NewsHour."

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"The reason frozen turkeys explode, at its core, has to do with differences in density," she said.

"There is a difference in density between oil and water and differences in the density of water between its solid, liquid and gas states," Nolin continued. "When these density differences interact in just the right way, you get an explosion."

The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) reports that fires caused by deep fryer accidents result in more than $15 million in property damage each year.

Approximately 60 people get injured by deep fryer fires and five people die from these fires, according to the NFPA.

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In a press release issued on Nov. 15, the NFPA wrote: "On Thanksgiving Day alone, an estimated 1,400 home cooking fires were reported to U.S. fire departments in 2019, reflecting a 228 percent increase over the daily average."

The NFPA "strongly discourages" the use of oil-based deep fryers for turkeys and instead recommends people buy fried turkeys from grocery stores or restaurants.

If a home-fried turkey is still desired, the NFPA suggests people buy fryers that don’t require cooking oil in order to avoid the possibility of experiencing "devastating burns."

Some Thanksgiving celebrators won’t forgo turkey frying, which has led many fire departments and safety organizations to produce guides on how to do it the right way.

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The International Firefighters Association (IAFF), a labor union representing firefighters and emergency medical responders in the U.S. and Canada, has issued an infographic on how to safely deep-fry a turkey on various social media platforms.

The association says turkeys need to be fully thawed and dried because "ice and water cause oil flare-ups."

Experts at the IAFF also recommend "smaller" turkeys between eight and 10 pounds for frying and skipping stuffing completely.

The IAFF suggests having a grease fire extinguisher handy when frying and making sure the fryer has "the right amount of oil."

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Thanksgiving cooks can find more fire prevention tips on iaff.org.