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Fires Caused By Candles A Growing Concern

People use candles more frequently than they used to, as mood-setters, decorative items, for special occasions, and more.

But that's led to a growing number of house fires.

The National Candle Association says there are some 18,000 candle-caused fires annually in the United States, and experts blame carelessness on the part of candle users.

Deaths from home fires have decreased by 50 percent since the 1970s because of public education and the widespread use of smoke alarms, but the candle fire problem has been growing.

Candles are used in approximately 7 out of 10 homes, according to the candle association. Consumers spend about $2 billion annually on them in the U.S.

On The Early Show Tuesday, Paul Martin, deputy chief of the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, also known as the New York State Fire Marshal's Office, offered a safety lesson.

The office says 44 percent of candle-sparked fires start in bedrooms, 19 percent in living rooms, family rooms or dens, 11 percent in bathrooms, seven percent in kitchens, and four percent in dining rooms. Some 36 percent of candle fires occur because candles were left unattended, abandoned or inadequately supervised, the office says, while 18 percent began because some form of combustible material was left too close, and nine percent were started by children playing with candles.

Among his candle safety recommendations:

  • Don't leave them unattended. If leave a room, extinguish the candle and re-light it when you return.
  • Maintain a two-foot circle of safety around a lighted candle. It shouldn't be near clothing, books, curtains, etc. A breeze from an open window or forced hot air from a heat duct can, for instance, sweep a curtain into the proximity of the flame.
  • Use candles with a sturdy base
  • Trim the wick to one-quarter inch. That prevents the flame from becoming too large.
  • Keep lighted candles out of areas where they can be knocked over by kids or pets. People like to put candles at the end of a coffee table, but that's where people reach over to get something, and their clothes can come in contact with a flame.

    Martin says some candles require special attention, such as those with combustible material embedded in them. When the candle burns down, a little plastic fish, for example, becomes exposed to the flame, and it may ignite.

    There are many decorative candles that aren't intended to be lit.

    Other candles you should pay special attention to are ones that look so much like a toy, they may entice to children to play with them.

    Gel candles are also very popular. Make sure they don't have too much moisture in the gel. If they do, the candle tends to pop and splatter when it's heated.

    Martin suggests you consider using battery-operated candles that can give the ambience of the real thing.

    He also stresses how critically important it is that homes have smoke detectors on every floor, and outside all sleeping areas.

    For much more on candle safety, from the National Candle Association, click here.

    For pointers from the New York State Office of Fire Prevention and Control, click here.