Candle Safety

The number of home fires caused by candles has been soaring in recent years, and jumped a startling 20 percent from 1998 to 1999, the most recent year for which statistics are available, according to the NFPA (National Fire Protection Association).

Indeed, 1999 marked a 20-year peak; there were an estimated 15,040 home candle fires that caused 102 deaths, 1,473 injuries (a 33 percent increase over the previous year), and $278 million in damage. In contrast, in 1990, there were 5,460 home fires attributed to candles.

Candle fires are more common around the holidays, because more people use candles and decorations are often near them. Candle fires peak on Christmas day-they accounted for 10 percent of home fires on Christmas 1999-followed by New Year's Day and Christmas Eve. Home candle fires are more common in the winter months; in 1999, there were almost twice as many home candle fires in December as in an average month.

How does a little flame become so dangerous? Four out of 10 times, the candles were left unattended, abandoned or inadequately controlled. One in four times, something that catches fire easily was left too close to the flame. Sometimes children play with the candle. Sometimes someone falls asleep with one or more candles lit.

Four out of 10 home candle fires start in the bedroom, and two out of 10 in common rooms, living rooms, family rooms or dens. The most common item first ignited by a candle is a mattress or bedding, except in December when decorations are the most common first item.

NFPA suggests these candle safety tips:

  • Use candles only in rooms where there is a responsible adult awake to control and oversee the flame.
  • Keep candles away from items that can catch fire, such as clothing, books, papers, Christmas trees, decorations, window blinds and curtains.
  • Keep candles away from high-traffic locations where they can be easily knocked over, including any area accessible to children or pets.
  • Place candles on stable surfaces in sturdy holders that grip the candle securely and won't tip over.
  • Place candles in candle holders that can't burn and are big enough to collect dripping wax.
  • Extinguish taper and pillar candles when they burn to within two inches of the holder, and votive and container candles before the last half-inch of wax begins to melt.
  • Avoid candles with combustible items embedded in them.
  • Use extreme caution if you carry a lit candle, holding it well away from clothing and any combustibles that may be near the path along which you walk, and avoid loose, flowing clothing that is not flame-resistant.
A new NFPA brochure, "Candle with Care," provides more information and advice. It can be ordered at



Station 39