Report: Candles can burn more than wicks |

Report: Candles can burn more than wicks

William Ferchland
Photo Illustration by Dan Thrift / Tahoe Daily Tribune / A candle burning near combustible materials is a disaster waiting to happen.

They can set the mood and can also set the drapes on fire.

According to a report released last month by the U.S. Fire Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, candles cause an estimated 23,600 residential structure fires annually.

In addition, fires caused by candles inflicted an estimated 1,525 injuries to civilians, 165 deaths and $390 million in property damage, the report stated.

News reports in Jamaica described a man burned to death Saturday from an overturned candle while a July 23 fire from an unattended candle in a Tampa Bay home an estimated $200,000 in damages.

South Shore firefighters know the dangers of a flame on a candle’s wick. Three years ago in May a woman nearly lost her life when she woke up to smoke in her apartment on Kahle Drive. A candle, placed on a heater and melted, ignited drapes and almost caused the woman to die from smoke intake, firefighters said at the time.

Most candle fires occur in the fall or winter seasons, and around the holidays, when daylight hours shrink and darkness falls quicker, said Russ Dow, division chief for the South Lake Tahoe Fire Department.

“It is a heat source and needs to stay away from combustibles,” Dow said.

Candle sales reach $2 billion a year in the United States and are used in 70 percent of American residences, according to the National Candle Association.

“According to manufacturer surveys, more than 95 percent of candle buyers are women,” the report from the U.S. Fire Administration said. “This statistic may be part of the reason why women are 30 percent more likely to be injured and are 45 percent more likely to die in residential candle fires than men.”

Dow said the department commonly responds to fires caused by lit candles left a window sill above a bed. A wind shift or a nearby flammable furniture piece can result in a fire, Dow said.

“It’s really important people use candle holders that are really sturdy and won’t tip over,” he said. “Candle holders should be made of materials that won’t burn.”

Capt. John Poell of the Lake Tahoe Valley Fire Protection District recalled a fire several years ago caused by candle wax igniting drapes.

The fire started in the bedroom and smoke spread into adjoining areas, Poell recalled. The house was empty; the occupants apparently forgetting about the candle.

“It was extremely bad,” Poell said.

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