The number of home fires caused by candles has been soaring in recent years, and jumped a startling 20 percent from 1998 to 1999, the most recent year for which
statistics are available, according to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association).
Indeed, 1999 marked a 20-year peak; there were an estimated 15,040 home candle fires that caused 102 deaths, 1,473 injuries (a 33 percent increase over the previous year), and $278 million in damage. In contrast, in 1990, there were 5,460 home fires attributed to candles.
Candle fires are more common around the holidays, because more people use candles and decorations are often near them. Candle fires peak on Christmas day—they accounted for 10 percent of home fires on Christmas 1999—followed by New Year’s Day and Christmas Eve. Home candle fires are more common in the winter months; in 1999, there were almost twice as many home candle fires in December as in an average month.
How does a little flame become so dangerous? Four out of 10 times, the candles were left unattended, abandoned or inadequately controlled. One in four times, something that catches fire easily was left too close to the flame. Sometimes children play with the candle. Sometimes someone falls asleep with one or more candles lit.
Four out of 10 home candle fires start in the bedroom, and two out of 10 in common rooms, living rooms, family rooms or dens. The most common item first ignited by a candle is a mattress or bedding, except in December when decorations are the most common first item.
General Safety tips
- Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
- Keep candles away from items that can catch fire (e.g. clothing, books, paper, curtains, Christmas trees, flammable decorations).
- Use candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over easily, are made from a material that can’t burn and are large enough to collect dripping wax.
- Don’t place lit candles in windows, where blinds and curtains can close over them.
- Place candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface and do not use candles in places where they could be knocked over by children or pets.
- Keep candles and all open flames away from flammable liquids.
- Keep candle wicks trimmed to one-quarter inch and extinguish taper and pillar candles when they get to within two inches of the holder or decorative material. Votives and containers should be extinguished before the last half-inch of wax starts to melt.
- Avoid candles with items embedded in them.
Candles and Children
- Keep candles up high out of reach of children.
- Never leave a child unattended in a room with a candle. A child should not sleep in a room with a lit candle.
- Don’t allow children or teens to have candles in their bedrooms.
- Store candles, matches and lighters up high and out children’s sight and reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
Candles During Power Outages
- Try to avoid carrying a lit candle. Don’t use a lit candle when searching for items in a confined space.
- Never use a candle for a light when checking pilot lights or fueling equipment such as a kerosene heater or lantern. The flame may ignite the fumes.