By Dave Russell


As the thermometer trends downward, fire calls trend upward. Two of five house fires are related to cooking, and with the holidays putting more cooks in kitchens, fire calls increase.

“Cooking fires generally peak during Thanksgiving and Christmas and structure fires, the general house fires, always go up in wintertime,” Jackson County Fire Marshal Michael Forbis said. “That’s just because of everyone cooking and heating their homes and the different appliances they use to do that.”

Local statistics are hard to come by but the National Fire Protection Association keeps up with fires across the country, Forbis said. 

From 2017-19, cooking was by far the leading cause of all Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings at 74 percent followed by heating at 8 percent. These fires caused an estimated annual average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $26 million in property loss.

By comparison, cooking was the cause of 51 percent of residential building fires that occurred on all days of the year other than Thanksgiving.

Over half (54 percent) of Thanksgiving Day fires in residential buildings occurred from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the most (8.8 percent) occurring between 1 and 2 p.m., when many people are preparing Thanksgiving dinner. The rest of the year, residential building fires peaked during “normal” dinnertime hours of 5 to 8 p.m.

“On average, fire departments in the U.S. respond to almost 500 cooking fires per day,” Forbis said. 

Ranges or stovetops were involved in 61 percent of reported home cooking fires, 87 percent of cooking fire deaths and 78 percent of cooking fire injuries.

According to the NFPA: 

• Households that use electric ranges have a higher risk of cooking fires and associated losses than those using gas ranges.

• Unattended cooking was the leading cause of cooking fires and casualties. Clothing was the item first ignited in fewer than 1 percent of these fires, but clothing ignitions led to 8 percent of the home cooking fire deaths.

• More than half of the non-fatal injuries occurred when people tried to control the fire themselves.


Increased deaths in 2021 

It has not been a good year for Jackson County in the fire arena. 

“We generally have one to two fatalities per year in the county,” Forbis said. “We’ve had as many as four in a year. We have more than some of the surrounding counties. Why that is I do not know.” 

Haywood, Graham, Macon, Clay and Transylvania have not had fire fatalities so far this year. Swain has had two, and Jackson three – all before April 3.

Adults 65 and older are more than twice as likely to die in fires compared to other age groups, Forbis said.

“Having working smoke alarms more than doubles your chances of surviving a fire,” he said. “In just two minutes a fire can become life-threatening. In five minutes, a residence can be fully engulfed in flames.”