Candle Safety: Don't Get Burned

candle safetyIt's estimated that yearly retail sales of candles is a $2-billion business in the U.S. and that seven out of 10 households here use the sweet-smelling mood-makers. So chances are, dear reader, that you are a candle-user.

Whether using candles for home décor, relaxation or aromatherapy, the question is: Are you burning them safely?

According to FEMA an estimated 15,600 residential fires are started each year by candles, leading to 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries, and $539 million in direct property damage.

Historically, when candles and hearth fires served as the primary source of light, house fires were hardly uncommon. However, in a modern era with buildings constructed of largely fireproof materials, candle fires are an unnecessary danger that's also easily preventable.
Most candle fires begin because candles are placed near flammable substances. More of these fires, 38 percent, start in the bedroom than any other room. In fact, most fire-related deaths happen between midnight and 6 a.m. -- and, most tragically, young children and the elderly are most likely to lose their lives in a residential fire.

Here's one account of a candle-based home fire:

"One of my roommates left a candle burning in his room and then left for the evening," said Scooter Vineberg, a musician in Cedar Rapids, IA. "At around 2 or 3 a.m., my girlfriend woke me up and informed me that the room was filled with smoke."

Vineberg was a senior at Tufts University in Boston when the fire raged through his three-bedroom house. Because the fire originated on the third floor in an adjacent bedroom, he and his girlfriend were able to rush downstairs and wake their other roommates on the way out. "Five to ten minutes after we all got out safely, the roof of the house just blew off in a ball of flames."

Studies find that most candle fires begin when candles are used for light. However, even those used for decorative purposes can be a danger. Twelve percent of fires are the result of candles left burning after people fall asleep. This risk can be exacerbated by a cluttered room or one in which windows are left open and susceptible to breezes. Once a candle completely burns away its wax, its open flame might be exposed to a tabletop, carpet or other flammable surface.

One of the greatest underlying problems is that people have no idea how quickly a fire can move through a space, destroying everything in its wake and blocking potential exits. "The house was mostly destroyed," Vineberg recalls. "What wasn't burned by the fire was almost certainly flooded to the point of ruin" as the flames were brought under control.

The U.S. Fire Administration suggests you take the following steps when using candles:
  • Avoid using candles in the event of a power outage. Battery powered flashlights and alternative lighting devices are exponentially safer.
  • Do not let candles burn all the way down.
  • Ensure lit candles are in sturdy metal, glass, or ceramic holders and placed where they cannot easily be knocked over.
  • Keep candles out of the reach of children and pets.
  • Never put candles on a Christmas tree.
  • Do not place candles on or near flammable material.
  • Whenever possible, float lit candles in water.
  • NEVER leave a room with candles burning. Fires take only moments to spread.
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