Fire Prevention: Ten Candle Safety Tips

By: Nicole Krueger

Candles create a cozy atmosphere on cold winter nights, and they are a popular choice for lighting during power outages. Unfortunately, many people fail to practice basic fire safety when handling candles during the holiday season. According to the National Fire Protection Association, December is the peak time of year for house fires caused by candles, which have more than doubled since 1990.

Thankfully, with careful attention, candles can add holiday cheer to your home without posing a threat to your property. Here are ten fire prevention tips to keep your candles burning safely:

1. Most candle-related fires are caused by candles being placed too close to combustible materials. Keep candles at least a foot away from flammables such as curtains, bedding, and holiday decorations. Keep six feet of space above the flame. Avoid placing candles near windows, vents, or fans. A slight draft is all it takes to spread the flame.

2. The second most common cause of home candle fires is candles falling or being knocked over. Burn candles in sturdy, non-combustible containers on secure surfaces, out of the reach of children and pets.

3. Wicks should not be left to burn until the wax is almost gone. Candle companies recommend extinguishing the flame once the wax is down to a half inch, or if the flame burns too close to the side of the container.

4. Keep lit candles within sight at all times. Candles should not be lit in a room you don't plan on staying in, or when you're about to go to sleep. More than a third of home candle fires start in the bedroom, says the National Fire Protection Association.

5. During power outages, use flashlights or other battery-powered lighting instead of candles. Avoid using candles for light with kerosene heaters, lanterns, or other fuel-based equipment.

6. Practice proper candle care. Always trim the wick to a quarter inch before lighting, as long or crooked wicks can cause dripping and uneven burning. Keep the wax clean of wick trimmings, matches, and other debris. Make sure the wick's ember is no longer glowing before you leave the room.

7. Place candles at least three inches apart from each other to ensure they don't melt together or create drafts that may cause improper burning.

8. Avoid walking around with a candle that is lit or liquefied.

9. In addition to the threat of fire, certain candles can cause soot damage within your home. Candles with soft or scented wax, untrimmed wicks, high or erratic flames, and thick wicks are the most likely to leave soot deposits on walls or other surfaces.

10. In the event that a fire does occur, it's important to contact a fire restoration professional as quickly as possible. When combined with moisture, smoke leaves behind a layer of acid on exposed surfaces, which can cause yellowing, etching, and other damage. Porous materials, such as fire damaged documents, also absorb the odor from charred materials in the home. Acting immediately can help prevent additional damage and expense when preserving your damaged property.

Inattention and misuse of candles are the two biggest causes of home candle fires during the holidays. By following these fire safety practices, you can safely enjoy candles within your home.

~Nicole Krueger, 2009

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