Candle Safety

Reader Contribution by Laura Damron
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In my opinion, nothing helps keep the impending chill and darkness of the cooler months away quite like candles do. Walk through any room in my house and you’re bound to find at least one, if not three or more. While we don’t depend on them for light (unless a storm has knocked out our power, of course), I find the warm, orange glow particularly comforting and use them often.

We’ve all seen the warnings on candle packaging: Never burn unattended. Keep away from flammable objects. Every year, I see stories on the news about people who have suffered loss due to one of those “unattended” candles. Personally, I’ve always sort of scratched my head at those stories; I never burn a candle when I’m not home, nor do I burn them on or near a flammable surface, so part of me chalked those accidents up to some major carelessness.

As the saying goes, “Maybe so, or maybe no…” but I wanted to share with you an experience I had recently that could have gone terribly wrong:

This is a mess. It used to be a rather pretty, cornflower blue, highly fragranced candle in a clear glass jar. Now, it’s a weird off-greenish color, caked with creosote, and has a rather stinky burnt-flower odor.

Here’s the scoop: Last week, we had a few friends over. As I have done countless times before, I lit a few candles before everyone arrived – some on our brick fireplace mantle and one in the guest bathroom, on the tile countertop. As always, I made sure there was nothing close to the candle, and I walked away.

Maybe an hour later, my husband caught my eye and asked if I’d step aside with him for a moment. He walked me to the bathroom to point out that the candle was burning like a torch: belching black, sooty smoke with flames roughly 6 inches tall shooting out of the top of the glass holder. He looked at me and said, “Is it supposed to be like that?” I goggled at it for a moment, then muttered something very un-ladylike and ran to the kitchen to get a saucer from our cupboard. Since the wax itself had caught on fire, no amount of blowing was going to put it out – much like a kitchen grease fire, the only way to extinguish it safely was by smothering.

We were lucky; aside from some jolted nerves and a slightly dingy-looking ceiling, there was no major damage. If the candle had been too close to the wall or the hand towels … well, this would be another story entirely. According to the U.S. Fire Administration/FEMA website, it is estimated that there are more than 15,000 candle fires annually in the U.S. – approximately 1,400 of which result in injury or death.  

So please, be careful with your candles – as wonderful as they can be, they do pose a serious hazard that many of us take for granted. I certainly did!

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