MILLTOWN/SPOTSWOOD, NJ - With Thanksgiving just a few short days away many local families are focused on planning the annual family-centered meal or getting packed to travel for the yearly celebration. However, according to the Red Cross, Thanksgiving dinner can also cause more issues than indigestion.

“Cooking is the number one cause of home fires,” said Paul Gass, regional preparedness manager, American Red Cross New Jersey Region. “We want people to stay safe and offer steps they can take to avoid kitchen fires and for the thousands traveling, to reach their destinations safely.”

The National Fire Protection Association also backs up that claim, listing Thanksgiving Day as the most notorious holiday for cooking fires. Christmas Day and Christmas Eve are ranked second and third. The statistics are high, but they're not really surprising considering the fact that many people are firing up stoves and grills with many hosting for the first time. Inexperience and distracted chefs often lead to cooking fires.

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So, what's a host to do on Thanksgiving to avoid having the family dinner ruined by fire? The Red Cross serves up ten common sense cooking tips that really should be practiced whenever a meal is being served, but especially during the busy holiday season.

1.     Don’t wear loose clothing or sleeves that dangle while cooking.

2.     If you are frying, grilling or broiling food, never leave it unattended – stay in the kitchen. If you just leave the kitchen for even a short period of time, turn off the stove.

3.     If you’re simmering, baking, roasting or broiling food, check it regularly.

4.     Use a timer to remind yourself that the stove or oven is on.

5.     Keep children and pets away from the cooking area. Make them stay at least three feet away from the stove.

6.     Keep anything that can catch fire – pot holders, oven mitts, wooden utensils, paper or plastic bags, food packaging, and towels or curtains – away from your stove, oven or any other appliance in the kitchen that generates heat.

7.     Clean cooking surfaces on a regular basis to prevent grease buildup.

8.     Consider purchasing a fire extinguisher to keep in your kitchen. Contact your local fire department to take training on the proper use of extinguishers.

9.     Always check the kitchen before going to bed or leaving the home to make sure all stoves, ovens, and small appliances are turned off.

10.  Install smoke alarms on each level of your home, near sleeping areas, and inside and outside bedrooms if you sleep with doors closed. Use the test button to check it each month. Replace all batteries at least once a year.

As far as holidays go, Thanksgiving typically ranks up there as the deadliest due to the large numbers of fatalities on the road. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Thanksgiving stands as the worst holiday to be on the road with the highest number of fatal and non-fatal car accidents.

The Red Cross also offers safety tips for drivers that will be hitting the road to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with family and friends.

1.     If driving, check the weather along your route and plan for travel around any storms that may be coming. Watch weather predictions for your entire route so you know what to expect along the way.

2.     Buckle up, slow down, and don’t drive impaired. Give your full attention to the road. Avoid distractions such as cell phones.

3.     Be well rested and alert.

4.     Follow the rules of the road.

5.     Use caution in work zones.

6.     Observe speed limits – driving too fast or too slow can increase your chance of being in a collision. Don’t follow another vehicle too closely.

7.     Make frequent stops. During long trips, rotate drivers. If you’re too tired to drive, stop and get some rest.

8.     Clean your headlights, taillights, signal lights and windows to help you see, especially at night.

9.     Turn your headlights on as dusk approaches, or if you are using your windshield wipers due to inclement weather. Don’t overdrive your headlights.

10.  If you have car trouble, pull off the road as far as possible.

Wherever the Thanksgiving holiday is spent this year, be safe and enjoy the time with family and friends.