Beware! Thanksgiving Risks to Watch

By | November 22, 2023

Thanksgiving seems like the safest of holidays. No fireworks, no green beer, no candles burning brightly next to tinsel-covered kindling. Just eat your dinner, take a nap and call it a day.

And yet, Thanksgiving is among the most dangerous times of year when it comes to fire and traffic accidents, and it kicks off the season of lights, ladder falls and identity theft.

Blazing Turkey

Is it even a holiday movie if someone doesn’t pull a charred bit of dinner out of a smoking oven? Well, it’s a cliché rooted in reality.

About 2,300 residential building fires were reported to fire departments on Thanksgiving Day each year from 2017 to 2019, according to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), and 75% resulted from a cooking mishap. Thanksgiving fires caused an estimated annual average of five deaths, 25 injuries and $26 million in property loss, with an average cost of $9,570 per incident. In 2021, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), an estimated 1,160 home cooking fires were reported to U.S. fire departments on Thanksgiving Day, reflecting a 297% increase over the daily average.

“Thanksgiving is a hectic holiday with multiple dishes cooking and baking at the same time, along with lots of guests, entertaining, and other distractions that can make it easy to lose sight of what’s on the stove or in the oven,” said Lorraine Carli, vice president of Outreach and Advocacy at NFPA. “With all these factors at play, it’s not surprising that the number of cooking fires spikes so dramatically.”

On any other day over the average year, the number of fires peaks between 5 p.m and 8 p.m., when people are cooking dinner. On Thanksgiving, that window shifts to 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with over 54% of reported fires igniting earlier in the day and declining throughout the evening.

Fortunately, in most Thanksgiving Day home fires (75%), the fire was limited to the object of origin – think a blazing turkey rather than a blazing kitchen. About 11% were limited to the room of origin. Typically, 19% are limited to the room of origin in residential building fires, and 25% extend beyond the room of origin.

Decorating Dangers

For many families, it’s time to break out the lights as soon as the Thanksgiving leftovers are packed away. Sometimes with disastrous results.

In 2019, about 14,800 people visited emergency rooms for holiday decorating-related injuries. During an average holiday season, nearly 160 decorating-related injuries are reported each day, with almost half of the incidents involving falls, according to U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission data. (And that doesn’t even account for the people out there just “walking it off” after taking a tumble from the porch roof.)

Other common Thanksgiving injury emergencies include joint sprains and back injuries from home football games, lacerations from food preparation and even strained backs from wrestling heavy turkeys out of the oven.

Auto Accidents

Between 2017 and 2021, 2,456 people were killed in motor vehicle crashes over the Thanksgiving period, according to National Highway Traffic Safety Administration figures. The NHTSA defines the holiday period as between 6 p.m. the Wednesday before the holiday until 6 a.m. the following Monday. Alcohol played a significant role. More than 830 of those people died in crashes involving a drunk driver, and drunk drivers were killed in 137 of those. Overall, Thanksgiving had a greater number of traffic deaths than the periods around Labor Day (2,351), Fourth of July (2,345), Memorial Day (2,191) and Christmas (1,680).

Black Friday Blues

The day after Thanksgiving officially kicks off the holiday shopping season, and identity theft is the Grinch. With pressure building and time running out, shoppers have their guard down and scammers are ready to strike. Phishing emails and convincing but fake websites take advantage of shoppers’ excitement over a great online deal. AI scams and gift card fraud are expected to explode this year. Old-fashioned card skimming is still going strong, estimated to cost financial institutions and consumers over $1 billion each year, according to the FBI.

A 2020 survey by Experian found that 25% of respondents had fallen victim to fraud over the holidays. The 2022 Holiday Shopping Report from Transunion found that 33% of those responding were more concerned about being a victim of fraud or identity theft in 2022, up from 25% in 2021. Millennials (44%) and Gen Z (31%) were the most aware of fraud and identity theft risks tied to online shopping. While baby boomers were most likely to shop with a credit card (65%), they also reported that they would shop online less overall than any other age group.

In 2022, the Federal Trade Commission received over 1.1 million reports of identity theft. While identity theft insurance can help cover the cost of restoring identity, chances are money taken by fraudsters will be a loss for consumers. Prevention is critical.

So, for a safer holiday season, watch the oven, monitor identity, and have someone hold the ladder.

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