Turkey fryer fires happen more than you might think. Listen to the story of contractors who nearly burned down the house they were building. You’ll hear why the NFPA and fire departments say you shouldn’t use a turkey fryer.
In this podcast, Dan Clark interviews concrete contractor Tim Schmerber in Oregon about the 2005 construction fire caused by a turkey fryer. One of the crew members set up the turkey fryer in the garage of the nearly completed home.
Listen all the way to the end. This is a story that will make you think twice about using a turkey fryer.
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Tim Schmerber: The grease was so hot it just ignited, and sent flames up through the garage door.
Dan: Hello, I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief. This is where we talk about health and safety hazards in today’s demanding industrial and construction worksites.
The NFPA, and fire departments everywhere, recommend NOT using a turkey fryer at home, or at work, because of so many dangers. Well, that didn’t stop a crew in Eugene, Oregon. The year: 2005, a couple of days before Thanksgiving. Contractor Tim Schmerber was on the job at the Cozy Homes construction project. What happened, Tim?
Tim: The builder decided it would be a good idea to have a turkey dinner and wanted to fry a turkey up. So, he went a bought a turkey fryer.
Tim: My father thought it’d be a good idea to just stick it right in, just inside the garage door.
Dan: Your dad, Henry Schmerber, set up the cooker inside the garage.
Dan: Oops. What happened next?
Tim: Hooked everything up, added the oil, started the burner, and asked one of the guys that was working there just to keep an eye on it. And not to put the lid on it. And, ah, one of the gentlemen there put the lid on it.
Dan: Uh-oh. (laughs)
Tim: Yeah. The oil had gotten so hot that it was bubbling out. The oil hit the burner, and caught fire.
Dan: Wow. And the flame got so big that the garage door above it melted?
Tim: Yeah, it melted it. It took took a couple minutes to do it, but it went right through the garage door, up through the Sheetrock.
Dan: And what did you see, I mean, were you anywhere near this fire when it began?
Tim: No, actually, I was taking, I think, my son or daughter to the doctor. I had my wife in the car. About two blocks away we were joking about, you know, “hopefully, he doesn’t burn the house down.” All of a sudden I see black smoke above the tree line, and the closer we get, it’s like “uh, oh.” Pulled in to the subdivision, and the garage was on fire.
Dan: Oh my gosh. And all the workers got out?
Tim: Yeah, everybody was out—eight or nine of us there. And the fire department showed up pretty quick.
Dan: Did anybody trying get to it with a fire extinguisher?
Tim: Yeah, but it was too late. It was on. Basically what we have around the job sites are for wood fires.
Dan: Not designed for grease fires, or propane.
Tim: I was surprised. The tank was still on, and it melted the hose on the tank and got pretty noisy. It didn’t explode, but.
Dan: Ok, so the tank is still on, and the fire is so hot it’s melted the hose. And, so now you have two fuel sources. You’ve got the oil that’s burning.
Dan: But you also have the propane that’s spewing out like a blowtorch.
Tim: It didn’t help that the nozzle was pointing up towards the ceiling too.
Tim: So, yeah, you could imagine. It could have been a lot worse.
Dan: Wow. Well, the word was—and this was a national news story. I mean, this is now nine years ago, in 2005. But, the story was, that you guys went across the street and found another fryer and went to another house to cook the turkey. Is that, is that actually true?
Tim: That is correct, yeah. They went and bought…the builder went and bought another fryer, and this time they set it up on a patio with no cover, so…
Tim: And we still had turkey dinner.
Dan: Wow, that’s an amazing story, Tim. Well, fire departments everywhere recommend NOT using a turkey fryer. So now, with your experience, have you given up on them, or do you have one?
Tim: I’ve got two, yeah.
Tim: I love my deep fried turkey. Turkey dinner.
Dan: That’s Tim Schmerber of Harrisburg, Oregon, who was on the job site when a turkey fryer nearly burned down the home he was building. I’m sure Tim would agree that if you’re going to use a turkey fryer at work, or at home, keep it outside on concrete.
Tim: (laughs) Yeah.
* Not on a wood deck.
* Don’t overfill it with oil.
* Don’t overheat the oil.
* Don’t put in a frozen turkey.
* And, if there is a fire, don’t use water. Have an appropriate fire extinguisher. Thanks, Tim.
Tim: No problem.
Dan: That’s all for this episode on Turkey Fryer Fires. Come back for more ways to stay safety compliant in today’s ever-changing landscape of safety requirements. I’m Dan Clark of The Safety Brief, a service of Creative Safety Supply. creativesafetysupply.com
See the NFPA’s turkey fryer tip sheet.
Photos with red flames provided by Boise Fire Department, Boise, ID