In a report released on October 28, 1999, the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association concluded that home fires, deaths, and associated injuries caused by candles have reached an 18-year peak. In 1997 (the latest year for which statistics are available) deaths caused by candle fires were up 24 percent over the previous year. The total number of fires caused by candles increased 17 percent, and injuries increased 5 percent. In 1997 alone, property damage as a direct result from candle fires reached over $170 million.
Most candle fires involve some kind of usage error, such as leaving candles unattended or some other inadequate control. Other common usage errors include leaving some form of combustible material too close to a candle, children playing with candles, and occupants falling asleep while candles were still burning. But, there is also room for improvement in the safety of candle design, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has issued recalls for some candles, candle holders, and candle shades in the past five years. The most common area of origin for these fires was the bedroom (44 percent). Other leading areas were living rooms (19 percent), bathrooms (11 percent), and kitchens (7 percent). From 1993-1997 almost half (44.7 percent) the reported home candle fires took place in the four-month span from October to January.
With candle fires and losses rising so rapidly, it is time for the fire safety community to get together to find ways to make candles safer to use, and make candle users more aware of the basics of safe use. Here is what you can do:
- Never leave a burning candle unattended.
- Do not leave children alone in a room with lit candles and always keep candles, as well as matches and lighters out of the reach of children.
- Keep burning candles away from children and pets.
- Be sure candles are placed in sturdy, non-combustible holders, and are kept well away from decorations and other flammable materials.
- Check candles frequently to make sure they don't burn down too far or drip hot wax. Place freestanding candles in a shallow dish or bowl to catch the wax in case of a blowout.
- Keep the wick trimmed to about ¼ inch.
- Don't display lighted candles in drafty areas like windows or near exits. Remember, a window or door may be your secondary escape during a fire.
- Under no circumstances is it safe to use candles to decorate Christmas trees.
- Always use a candle snuffer to extinguish candles.
The Kansas City, Missouri Fire Department would be happy to meet with your group or organization to discuss fire safety. To schedule a visit, please fill out this form or contact Fire Prevention at (816) 784-9100.