By Tom Kiurski
America has a love affair with candles. It may be the swirling colors, the architectural designs or the aromatic scents, but America is hooked on the open flames. The romance continues with purchases that have increased 700 percent in the 1990s and annual sales now topping $2 billion, according to the National Candle Association. With newer “gel candles” and candles with all types of decorations inside the wax or gels, fire departments need to get the safety messages to their communities about candles.
While candles can be attractive, their industry holds firmly to the “voluntary compliance with safety standards” instead of being regulated. While many companies do comply, dealing with foreign markets that do not follow safety standards makes for tough competition. And with November upon us and December following right behind, the most dangerous months for candle fires are right ahead of us. December has almost twice the number of home candle fires than an average month.
The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) studies on candle fires found that an estimated 18,000 home fires started by candles were reported to public fire departments in 2002. These fires resulted in an estimated 130 civilian fire deaths, 1,350 civilian injuries and an estimated direct property loss of $333 million. The statistics make it imperative that we follow some fire safety rules when candles are involved. Our citizens need to use some old-fashioned common sense to deal with the increased use of high-tech candles.
Remind your citizens to keep a one-foot area from the candle clear from any flammable or combustible items, such as curtains or bedding. Make sure that curtains and drapes cannot be blown over the candles by wind. Place burning candles on sturdy surfaces and out of the reach of children. Candles should only be lit and allowed to burn under adult supervision, with a grown-up in the room at all times. Flashlights make a much better choice for lighting during power outages, and do not allow children to have candles burning in their bedrooms. Parents must be reminded to store candles, as well as matches and lighters, high and out of the reach of children.
Pets must also be watched around open flames. Keep candles away from their reach or paths of travel.
Candles can be used to give a house that “holiday glow” that people want in their homes. Just make sure that “glow” doesn’t become a headline tomorrow. It isn’t worth the risk.
Tom Kiurski is a lieutenant, a paramedic, and the director of fire safety education for Livonia (MI) Fire & Rescue. His book, Creating a Fire-Safe Community: A Guide for Fire Safety Educators (Fire Engineering, 1999) is a guide for bringing the safety message to all segments of the community efficiently and economically.