The popularity of candles as home decorations, aromatherapy and gifts has a downside: They can be dangerous. Home fires sparked by burning candles are on the rise.
Forget romance and decoration for now. Think about safety, because candle makers are not required to warn consumers about the potential hazards of their products.
"Think of it as a flame," and take necessary precautions, said Capt. Steve Valenzuela, spokesman for the County of Los Angeles Fire Department. Fires caused by candles have increased in each of the last three years, Valenzuela said. Most of the fires began when candles were left unattended, set too close to combustible material or placed on an ill-fitting base.
Nationwide, fires started by candles hit an 18-year high in 1997, the latest full year for which statistics were available, according to the National Fire Protection Assn. in Quincy, Mass. The fires burned 11,600 homes, killed 156, injured 1,202 people and caused $171.1 million in property damage.
The safety issue is enough of a problem that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, the trade group National Candle Assn. and the American Society for Testing Materials are working together on standardized warning labels. But the labels would be voluntary for candle manufacturers, whose sales reached $2.3 billion in 1998, according to the National Candle Assn.
J.C. Edmond, president of General Wax & Candle Co. in North Hollywood and spokesman for the National Candle Assn., said consumers ultimately have to take the responsibility--like not leaving a burning candle unattended.
"Even a fire in your fireplace with a screen--you wouldn't walk out of a house and leave it burning unattended," Edmond said.
Candles today are less about function and more about ambience and relaxation--so common sense seems to melt away under influence of flickering light.
"We have found candles placed directly on bedroom dressers," resulting in fires, Valenzuela said.
The most common areas of origin for fires started by candles are the bedroom, at 44%, followed by the living room (19%), bathroom (11%) and kitchen (7%), according to the National Fire Protection Assn.
When using candles, consider these safety measures:
* Stay within sight of burning candles.
* Keep them out of reach of children and pets.
* Burn the candle no longer than the suggested time on a label, if there is one.
* Place candles on something fireproof, such as glass, metal or ceramic.
* Place candles a safe distance away from combustible materials such as curtains, drapes and bath towels.
* Keep wicks of candles in jars trimmed to a quarter-inch from the base so that carbon does not build up and increase the size of the flame.
* Remove any type of packaging or raffia before lighting a candle.
* Make sure that a candle's flame is out completely. Brass candle snuffers can be purchased for as little as 99 cents.
Candace Wedlan may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.