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Think candle safety for holiday season
MISSISSIPPI STATE --If decorating for the holiday season involves candles, remember to use them properly to avoid unnecessary and potentially tragic accidents.
Ted Gordon, a Mississippi State University Extension Service safety specialist at the North Mississippi Research and Extension Center in Verona, said although candles are used to decorate homes and offices year-round, the number of candle fires increases significantly during the holiday season.
"The latest data from the National Fire Protection Association shows that in 1999 an estimated 200 candle fires were recorded on Christmas Day, which is five times the number on any other day of the year," Gordon said. "Candle fires represented 10 percent of all home fires on Christmas Day. New Year's Day ranked second with 150 candle fires, and Christmas Eve ranked third with 130."
For the entire year, more than 15,000 home fires started by candles were reported to public fire departments in 1999. These fires resulted in an estimated 102 civilian deaths, 1,473 civilian injuries and an estimated direct property loss of $278 million, according to the NFPA.
"Studies show that 40 percent of home candle fires start in the bedroom and 13 percent after the user is asleep," Gordon said. "Thirty-eight percent start from unattended candles, 23 percent from candles being left too close to some form of combustible material, and 8 percent from people -- usually children -- playing with the candles."
Gordon said proper handling of candles during the holiday season and all year long can keep a fire from destroying a joyous family time. He offered the following tips from the NFPA:
- Always extinguish candles when leaving a room or going to sleep.
- Keep candles away from items that can catch fire, like clothing, books, paper, curtains, Christmas trees and flammable decorations.
- Use candle holders that are sturdy, won't tip over easily, are made from a material that cannot burn and are large enough to collect dripping wax.
- Don't place lit candles in windows where blinds and curtains can close over them.
- Place candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface.
- Do not use candles in places where they could be knocked over by children or pets.
- Keep candles and all open flames away from flammable liquids.
- Keep 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.
- Try to avoid carrying a lit candle, and avoid using a lit candle when searching for items in a confined space.
"People often make the mistake during power outages of using candles as a light source when checking pilot lights or fueling equipment, such as a kerosene heater or lantern," Gordon said. "This is very dangerous because the flame can ignite those fumes."
Extra caution is needed when children or pets are in the home. Keep candles, matches and lighters up high and out of children's sight and reach, preferably in a locked cabinet.
"Also don't leave kids unattended in a room with a candle or allow a child to sleep in a room with a candle," Gordon said. Parents should not allow children or teen-agers to burn candles in their bedrooms.
For more information on home candle safety, telephone Gordon at (662) 566-2202 or contact the local county Extension office.