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Holidays Are Hazardous for Candle Fires

Three worst days are during the season, experts say

TUESDAY, Dec. 24, 2002 (HealthDayNews) -- It's that time of year when many people like to add festive candles to their home decor, but the holiday season also holds a dubious distinction: More candle fires than any other time of year.

In 1999, fire departments across the nation responded to 200 home candle fires on Christmas Day -- more than on any other day of the year, according to the National Fire Protection Association's (NFPA) most recent data. New Year's Day came in second with 150 such fires, while Christmas Eve was a close third with 130.

One in three candle fires occur because burning candles are left unattended, says Margie Coloian, NFPA's public affairs manager. "These are open flames and once you leave the room, you don't know what's going to happen to them," she says. "A candle can tip over, a gust of wind may blow in from an open window, or a pet may brush past and knock it over."

Between 1990 and 1999, the number of home fires caused by burning candles climbed from 5,000 to 15,000, according to NFPA's latest statistics.

Many of these blazes exact a heavy toll. Stephen Coan, the Massachusetts State Fire Marshal, says home candle fires in the Bay State caused one death, 20 civilian injuries, 25 firefighter injuries and $6.2 million in property losses last year.

The most obvious reason for the increased incidence is there are just that many more candles around. In the last decade, candles have become popular home accessories. Specialty stores, peddling candles to suit all tastes, have sprung up in shopping malls everywhere.

"A generation ago candles were for the most part used on dining room tables and they'd be available in case there was a power failure," Coan says. "But nowadays they're used for setting moods, adding fragrance to a room or blocking odors. So since they're used more extensively, they've led to a dramatic and tragic increase in the number of fires."

According to Coloian, children under 10 and adults over 75 are at the greatest risk of dying from a candle fire. Kids' fascination with open flames too frequently ends in tragedy, while elderly people sometimes forget a candle's burning and go to bed, or they nod off inadvertently.

While there's no need to abandon the trendy home decor accessories, Coloian advises people to be more aware of the safety hazards candles pose, and to use them more cautiously.

So keep the home candles burning, but follow these NFPA safety tips:

  • Extinguish all candles when you leave the room or when you go to sleep;
  • Keep candles away from items that can catch fire, such as papers, books, decorations or Christmas trees;
  • Avoid candles with combustible material in them, like those embedded with dried leaves, because they may flare up;
  • Use sturdy, safe and fire-resistant holders that collect dripping wax, and be sure the candles fit inside snugly;
  • And trim the wick when it gets too long and discard candles when they get within two inches of their holders.

What To Do

The National Fire Protection Association has information on candles and other tips on holiday safety.

SOURCES: Margie Coloian, public affairs manager, National Fire Protection Association, Quincy, Mass.; Stephen Coan, Massachusetts State Fire Marshal, Boston
Consumer News