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THE SAFETY ZONE | Spotlight

Halogen Hazards

Simple precautions can lower the risk of fires ignited by the popular lighting fixtures.

March 27, 2000|MARISSA ESPINO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The halogen floor lamp is a popular way to add some unusual light and shadow to a room.

But in the last few years, the ubiquitous lamp has been in the news in connection with house fires caused when curtains, towels or clothing come too close to its white-hot bulb. Halogen lights burn at 900-1,200 degrees, compared to 340 degrees for a regular 150-watt bulb.

Just last fall in an Orange home, a halogen torchiere lamp located about six to eight inches from some wicker baskets and books ignited a blaze that caused about $300,000 in damage.

"It pretty much gutted the master bedroom and a sitting room," said Richard Alarcon, an Orange Fire Department investigator.

From 1992 to 1998, the Consumer Product Safety Commission received 232 reports--including 12 deaths--of fire-related incidents nationwide involving halogen floor lamps.

So what to do with halogen lamps? At the very least, fire officials say, make sure they are working properly and are kept away from anything flammable.

But if you want even more peace of mind, officials suggest either purchasing a wire grill to place around the bulb or securing a new energy-efficient model that uses a much cooler-burning bulb.

The Orange Fire Department and Southern California Edison held a consumer-awareness event last fall, urging Orange County residents to replace their older lamps with safer, energy-efficient models.

More than 600 lamps were handed over during the Great Torchiere Turn In.

Gil Alexander, a Southern California Edison spokesman, said he talked to many people who did not realize the potential danger.

"I was talking to a woman who had seen a news story to promote the event and got up from where she was sitting in her living room and walked over to her [halogen] lamp," Alexander said. "She put her hand against the wall beside the lamp and was shocked by how hot it was and noticed the plaster was cracking from the heat. She immediately shut it off and took it to the driveway."

The halogen fires are most likely to occur when the bulb comes in contact with materials such as curtains, bedding, ceiling material, wood wall paneling, clothing and paper.

"You need to make sure you are keeping them away from sources where heat may become a factor," said Orange County Fire Authority Capt. Paul Hunter.

A halogen lamp, a free-standing lamp with a shallow bowl-shaped light fixture mounted on top of a six-foot pole, is illuminated by a tubular halogen bulb that ranges from 300 to 500 watts.

"It becomes more critical that you follow the safety recommendations with halogen lamps because they burn hotter," said Julie Reynolds, spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Assn. "The big concern that we have is the bulbs coming in contact with something that can burn. With a reasonable level of safety, people should not be concerned."

The second most common hazard scenario, according to federal regulators, occurs when a halogen bulb explodes or shatters. This can cause hot glass fragments to ignite combustible materials nearby.

Wire guards can be purchased at home improvement stores to cover the halogen bulbs, better protecting the bulb from contact.

Southern California Edison also recommends purchasing new lamps with the Energy Star label. These lamps have bulbs that are cool to the touch and last much longer than halogen bulbs.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

Light the Torch Safely

* Carefully read any and all safety instructions, warnings and markings that accompany the product before use.

* Never place materials such as clothing and towels on the top of the lamp.

* Never place the lamp near an open window where a strong breeze could blow drapery onto the bulb.

* Avoid placing lamps in locations where they may be easily tipped over by children or pets.

* Never use the lamps in children's bedrooms or playrooms.

* Keep the lamps away from elevated beds, such as bunk beds, where bedding may get too close to the bulb.

* Always turn off or unplug the lamp before removing or replacing bulbs.

* Never attempt to replace or discard a bulb that is hot to the touch.

* Never use a bulb of a different style or higher wattage than recommended by the manufacturer's use and care instructions.

* Never operate any lamp with missing or damaged parts.

* Avoid keeping high-wattage (more than 100 watts) halogen lamps on when you leave the room or when you are not at home.

Source: Underwriters Laboratories Inc.

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