Candle Safety During the Holidays and Throughout the Year

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Candles are a beautiful addition to any holiday decor, but if not properly used, they can be deadly. Candle fires are four times more likely to occur during the winter holidays than any other time throughout the year. The top 3 holidays for candle fires (2006 – 2010) were Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Day with the month of December being the peak month when candle fire incidents nearly doubled. In December, 11% of candle fires began with candle decorations, a 7% increase in comparison to the rest of the year. This increase indicates that not only is candle use up during the month of December but more combustible items that can burn are placed around the candles.
According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), in 2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated 9,100 home structure fires started by candles that resulted in 90 deaths, 870 injuries and $313 million in direct property damage. Nineteen percent (1 out of 5), home fires occurred when candles were unattended or abandoned. More than half, 56%, of those candle fires occurred when combustible items were too close to the candle. Although the majority of these fires began in the bedroom, candle fire deaths occur in other areas of the home as well, i.e. the living room, family room and den.
The NFPA suggests the following candle safety tips to keep you and your family fire-safe during the holiday season and throughout the year:

  • Use sturdy candle holders that won’t tip over easily and are made from a material that cannot burn, such as metal, ceramic or glass and are large enough to collect dripping wax.
  • When lighting candles, be sure to keep your hair and loose clothing away from the flame.
  • Protect candle flames with glass covers/chimneys or containers.
  • Extinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.
  • Keep candles at least 12 inches away from things that can burn/catch fire, like clothing, books, curtains, silk and dried flower arrangements, holiday decorations and Christmas trees.
  • People are fascinated by a flickering candle and children and pets are no exception, therefore, keep children and pets away from burning candles.
  • NEVER leave a child or pet unsupervised in a room with a lighted candle.
  • Keep matches and lighters safely out of a child’s reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
  • Keep candles and all open flames away from flammable liquids.
  • NEVER use a candle when oxygen is present.
  • Keep candle wicks trimmed to 1/4 inch and extinguish the flame when they get to within 2 inches of the holder.
  • Votives and containers should be extinguished before the last ½ inch of wax starts to melt.
  • For emergency lighting, use flashlights NEVER use candles.

From 2005 – 2010, 117 fatal home candle fires occurred resulting in 177 deaths.
Prince William County Department of Fire and Rescue ( discourages the use of candles in bedrooms and sleeping areas and suggest using battery-operated flameless candles which gives the appearance of a lighted wick and resemblance of a real candle.
Flameless candles are fire-safe, yet, there are additional safety precautions one must take when using. Flameless candles use button batteries which are dangerous to kids, especially toddlers, and cause severe injuries when swallowed. The batteries can become lodged in the throat, burning the esophagus causing permanent damage. Annually, approximately 3,000 swallowing cases are reported in the U.S., — or one every three hours. Of those incidents, 19 children sustained life-threatening or debilitating injuries and others died!
When using flameless candles, remember to secure the battery compartment and keep them out of the reach of children — key steps in the prevention of unintentional injuries and death. However, should a child swallow a battery, parents and caregivers are advised to follow these life-saving steps:

  • Go to the emergency room IMMEDIATELY! Tell doctors and nurses that your child may have swallowed a battery. If possible, provide the medical team with the identification number found on the battery’s package.
  • Do not let the child eat or drink until a chest x-ray can determine if a battery is present.
  • Do not induce vomiting.
  • Call the National Battery Ingestion Hotline at 202-625-3333 for additional treatment information.

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