Candles cause about 22 house fires every day amounting to 7,900 residential fires every year in the United States. This leads to an average of 80 deaths per year from candle fires.
No points for guessing the two worst years for candle fires: Christmas and Christmas Eve. The combination of candle and Christmas tree fires makes Christmas an incredibly busy time of year for our firefighters, and unfortunately a very sad time of year for some people who lose loved ones to fires.
But with a little education, you can ensure you’re not one of those people who lets their home go up in flames.
So in this post we’ve brought together the best advice on the web from sources such as the National Fire Prevention Agency, the US Fire Administration and the National Candle Association to present some important candle fire safety tips for you and your family. Note that while we’ve done our best to source accurate information, you need to check with your fire authority in your jurisdiction on tips for you and your circumstances. This is not an exhaustive list of strategies, but simply examples of ways to use candles more safely.
Candle Fire Safety Strategies
1. Consider Using Flashlights Instead
If you’re simply using candles exclusively for light (e.g. in a blackout) and not for ceremonious purposes, consider switching over to flashlights. The best thing to do is plan ahead by creating an emergency blackout kit. In this kit you should have a range of flashlights for the family to use. This will minimize your need to resort to open flames during a blackout. We’ve also recommended elsewhere on this site that you keep flashlights in your wildfire evacuation kit – so that’s also another source you could use to access flashlights during a blackout.
Similarly, use flashlights instead of candles as a nightlight. It’s important to never fall asleep when a candle is burning. There are many nightlight options available for purchase online or in your local store that you can plug into a powerpoint for low levels of light at night. Similarly, you could keep a flashlight on your bedside table.
2. Clear the Area (1 foot around the candles)
Three out of every 5 candle-related fires start when fuels around the candle unintentionally catch alight. To minimize this risk, try to remove and flammable objects from the immediate vicinity of the candle. The US Fire Administration recommends to clear a 1-foot radius around your candle of any flammable items such as tissues, wrapping paper for presents, napkins, documents, or other common household flammables. Similarly, a candle should not be kept on a windowsill where a hanging curtain could catch alight. It’s a good idea to place your candles on a dedicated table where no other objects are within its vicinity.
3. Find a Well-Ventilated but Draft Free Area
The National Candle Association recommends that candles be placed in an area that is well ventilated, but also is free of drafts, vents or air currents. The area needs to be well ventilated so smoke can disperse. However, drafts can cause candles to flicker, spit wax, or simply tip in the wind. A calm draft-free area is always best to ensure the candle doesn’t get out of hand.
4. Use a Sturdy Candle Holder
A dedicated and well-designed candle holder is important for ensuring a candle is operated safely. Well designed candle holders should have a bowl for catching the pool of wax and should have a wide, sturdy base to prevent the candle from tipping. Different candles require different types of candle holders – so make sure you get one that’s right for the type of candle.
A good idea is to get a candle holder with very high sides which both catches the candle wax and protects the flame from falling fuels or sudden drafts.
Candle holders also need to be heat resistant to prevent the candle holder itself from scolding the table on which it is seated.
5. Trim the Wick to 1/4 Inch
The wick is the part of the candle that actually burns. If the wick is too long, it flops to the side. This can cause uneven burning on the candle which can undermine its structural integrity. Further, dripping wax and a hanging flame can increase the chances that the candle will burn surrounding fuels.
To trim your wick, simply use scissors or nail clippers.
6. Light Candles with long Matches
Another time when your candle may cause a house fire is when you’re lighting it. It’s always best to light a candle with a long lighter or matches. Remember to protect your hair and clothes when lighting the candle. If you tie your hair back, it’s less likely to catch alight. Pull up your long sleeves and keep them well away from the flame.
7. Keep your Candles 3 Inches Apart
Keeping candles separated can prevent them from melting one another or causing their own drafts. When one candle’s heat starts melting the other’s wax, the second candle will start collapsing in on itself as its structural integrity is compromised. By keeping them 3 inches apart, you’re ensuring the candle wax will only be burning from the top down, not from the side. Furthermore, flames that are close to one another can interact – causing them to flicker more than if they were not being influenced by each other.
8. Never Leave Candles Unattended
Many fires are prevented from growing because someone was there to see and extinguish it at its incipient stage. If you’ve left the room where the candle is burning, you’re not there to catch an accidental blaze early enough. After you get out of the bath, put those candles out before heading to your bedroom to get dressed. Before bed, make sure you put all the candles out. If you need to leave the room, even temporarily, put the candles out and reignite them when you re-enter the room.
9. Place Candles out of Reach of Kids and Pets
While your kids (and even your pets) might appear trustworthy, mistakes do happen. Your kids and pets may accidentally knock the table on which a candle is burning and cause it to fall on the floor. Or, if your child is a curious creature, they might start playing with the candle when you’re not looking. It’s best to remind your child to leave the candles alone and ask to be supervised if they want to light or interact with the candle in any way.
10. Never Pass a Burning Candle
While in religious and ceremonial occasions, candles will often be passed from person to person. According to the National Fire Prevention Agency’s guidelines for religious use of candles, it’s best of avoid this situation. Instead, people should “have the person with the unlit candle dip their candle into the flame of the lit candle.” In this way, there is less chance that a candle will be dropped when being passed from one person to another.
11. Never Let the Candle Burn all the way Down
A candle that burns all the way down might be more likely to cause a fire. One reason may be that there will be excessive build-up of a wax pool which is very hot and can light nearby fuels. Another reason is that the wick can become loose when there is not much hard wax left over which may cause it to fall on its side .According to the National Candle Association, it’s best to stop burning a candle with a half inch of solid wax left over, or 2 inches for pillar candles.
12. Never Extinguish a Candle with Water
Splashing water can cause hot liquids to spit and spread rapidly. This is why your regular ABC home fire extinguisher does not contain liquid, but rather a dry chemical compound. So, if there is a candle fire where wax is involved, use a dry chemical fire extinguisher rather than water to extinguish it.
Similarly, blowing a candle out can cause wax to spread.
The best practice to extinguish a candle is to deny it of oxygen. A dedicated candle snuffer is always a good choice.
13. Ensure the Candle is Fully Out
Much like a cigarette, you might think a candle has been put out, but the wax may still be smoldering. After extinguishing a candle, keep your eye on it until the red afterglow is fully out. Then, let the candle sit safely under supervision until the wax has returned to room temperature. Hot wax can still cause a new fire to start if exposed to the right fuels.
14. Keep a Fire Extinguisher or Fire Blanket in the Room
Lastly, it’s always best practice to have a fire extinguisher or fire blanket close by. A fire blanket can be used on a small fire on a table by throwing the blanket entirely over the candle and its flames if it is starting to get out of hand. Often, a fire blanket is the least messy way to extinguish a fire. A fire extinguisher might be useful for a larger fire that cannot be covered by a blanket. Fire extinguishers should be used by someone who has some training in their use. If the fire seems to be getting out of control, it’s important to call your fire emergency number (North America: 9-1-1) and ensure everyone vacates the vicinity of a fire as soon as possible.
Furthermore, it’s a good idea to have an active smoke detector in the building in case a candle starts a fire that you would otherwise be unaware of. For example, your kids might get into the candle kit and light fires without your knowledge – and a smoke detector can catch those fires early and prevent them from causing devastating damage to your home.
Candles are romantic and religious symbols that serve an important place in many of life’s ceremonies. From weddings to funerals, family events to romantic nights in the bath, we use candles to set the atmosphere and mood in our lives. And there’s no need to stop using them. But they do need to be used safely. Please remember to follow the advice of your local fire authority as the ultimate advice for you and your situation as we cannot provide professional advice to you. But hopefully the above general tips can start getting you to think about ways to minimize risks of fires from candles.
All the best!