Handle candles with care

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 16, 2002

During the holidays many people chose to illuminate homes and decorations with candles, but according to Suffolk’s Emergency Management Coordinator Jim Judkins, it is extremely important to remember that a candle is an open flame and can ignite any combustible coming into contact with that flame.

Judkins said new data from the &uot;National Fire Prevention Association&uot; shows that home candle fires peaked on Christmas Day 1999, the latest statistics. The second highest number of candle-caused fires was New Year’s Day and the third peak day was Christmas Eve.

&uot;On Christmas Day in 1999, there were about 200 home candle fires reported to fire departments across the U.S.,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;That is five times the daily average of 40 candle-related fires throughout the year. Fires caused by candles represent about 10 percent of the home fires that took place on Christmas Day. On Jan. 1, 1999, there were 150 home candle fires, and on Christmas Eve, there were 130 fires. Those figures are from across the nation.&uot;

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Suffolk has been spared such instances of fires, and he said everyone using candles to decorate should be particularly careful to prevent a fire in the home.

Judkins said there are some candles that should be avoided including the gel type so popular in today’s. market. He explained that a candle of any type can go from being a &uot;friendly fire&uot; to a heat source that can burn the home in a matter of minutes, and that gel candles are particularly dangerous.

&uot;When a flame is applied to the wick in the gel candles, the wax or gel begins to melt and liquefy,&uot; said Judkins. &uot;It then produces a vapor and that’s what actually burns in this type of candle. The waxes, gels and other additives in these candles burns hotter than regular wax, and with too much heat a glass candleholder or container is more likely to shatter. If that happens, nearby combustibles will be ignited, resulting in a room fire.&uot;

Many products are tested by independent laboratories to provide assurance of meeting designated safety standards. According to Judkins, the Candle Products Subcommittee of the ASTM International’s &uot;Candle Fire Safety Task Group&uot; is working to develop a standard testing protocol for candle fire safety issues.

&uot;At the present time, each candle manufacturer is responsible for testing its own products according to its own standards,&uot; he said. &uot;I would advise everyone to look closely at the candles and containers and try to determine if they could be a fire hazard. If there is any doubt, don’t purchase the item but look for something that can be placed in a safe container to prevent a fire.&uot;

Safety tips for candle use:

nExtinguish all candles when leaving the room or going to sleep.

nKeep candles away from items that can catch fire including clothing, books, paper, curtains, Christmas trees, and flammable decorations).

nUse candle holders that are sturdy, won’t tip over easily, are made from a material that can’t burn and are large enough to collect dripping wax.

nDon’t place lit candles in windows, where blinds and curtains can close over them.

nPlace candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface and do not use candles in places where they could be knocked over by children or pets.

nKeep candles and all open flames away from flammable liquids.

nKeep candle wicks trimmed to one-quarter inch and extinguish taper and pillar candles when they get to within two inches of the holder or decorative material. Votives and containers should be extinguished before the last half-inch of wax starts to melt.

nAvoid candles with combustible items embedded in them.

Candles & children:

nKeep candles up high out of reach of children.

nNever leave a child unattended in a room with a candle. A child should not sleep in a room with a lit candle.

nDon’t allow children or teens to have candles in their bedrooms.

nStore candles, matches and lighters up high and out children’s sight and reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.

During power outages:

nTry to avoid carrying a lit candle. Don’t use a lit candle when searching for items in a confined space.

nNever use a candle for a light when checking pilot lights or fueling