FIRE SMART: Too many candles gone wrong

Enjoy the warmth and atmosphere that candles can provide but give them the respect

Anyone who knows me will verify my dislike for candles. They might even go as far as saying “I was wondering how long it would take before he wrote something about them.”

Quite honestly, I have never understood the logic!  My question being, “In a time and age where electricity supplies a very safe means of seeing in the dark, what would ever possess a person to risk potential disaster by having an open flame possessing temperatures close to 1400 degrees Celsius on a column of melting wax in their house in the first place?” Granted this speaks to my romantic side, but truthfully it comes as a result of seeing far too many candles gone wrong.

I concede that candles for the most part are safe products. However, they have to be used safely and be watched carefully. Far too often, we tend to under estimate their potential and leave them unattended or use them incorrectly.

Candles left burning with no one watching can allow wax to get so hot it will catch fire and burn. The heat given off by candles that are placed too close to nearby curtains, party decorations or clothing have been found to be the cause of costly and deadly fires every year in Canada.

In fact, data from Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and B.C indicates that between 1999 and 2008 there was an average of nearly 800 candle fires each year resulting in a yearly average of 8 fire deaths, 115 fire injuries and $26.2 million in property damage. In most cases they happened quickly, came as a total surprise and were totally avoidable.

It is a fact that candle fires are most common during holidays and special occasions where the abundance of traditional decorations and all kinds of distractions can create an environment where they are treacherous! As an example just recently at a wedding I attended, an innocently discarded napkin caught fire on a candle that was being used to decorate one of the tables.

Totally accidental and relatively insignificant, the fire was quickly extinguished but under slightly different circumstances could have caused considerable damage and evolved into a major tragedy. With Christmas quickly approaching, and candles traditionally being part of the festive season, here are some simple rules to follow when using candles that will help keep your holidays both enjoyable and safe:

Always keep a burning candle in sight. When leaving the room or going to sleep, make sure any candles are completely extinguished and their wicks are no longer glowing.

Keep a burning candle away from anything that can catch on fire such as drapes, Christmas trees, bedding, carpets, books, paper, flammable decorations, etc.

Keep candles away from, and out of the reach of, children and pets.

Candlewicks that are long or crooked should be trimmed to ¼ inch to avoid uneven burning and dripping. Trim them every 2-3 hours to prevent high flames.

Use a strong and sturdy candle holder specifically designed for candle use and big enough to contain drips or melted wax.

To prevent possible heat damage and prevent glass containers from cracking or breaking, be sure the candleholder is placed on a stable, heat-resistant surface.

Never burn candles longer than directed by the manufacturer and keep them clear of debris at all times.

Prevent rapid, uneven burning, and avoid flame flare-ups by keeping burning candles away from drafts, vents, ceiling fans and air currents.

Don’t burn a candle all the way down or too close to its holder.

Burning candles should be kept at least three inches apart to avoid them melting unevenly.

Take extra care when burning candles with more than one wick.

Avoid causing hot wax splatters and sparks by using a snuffer to extinguish a candle.

Watch for candles burning improperly! Extinguish them, let them cool, trim the wick, check for drafts and then relight.

Vernon Fire Rescue Services wants you and your family to stay safe.

By all means enjoy the warmth and atmosphere that candles can provide but please give them the respect they deserve by providing them with the appropriate care and caution they require.

Lawrie Skolrood is deputy fire chief with Vernon Fire Rescue