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In a report released on Oct. 28, 1999, the nonprofit National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 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 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:
Floyd Peoples, Chief Fire Marshal, Kansas City, Mo., Fire Department, 816-784-9100
Heart of America Metro Fire Chiefs Council, 9550 W. 95th St., Overland Park, Kan. 66212