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Fire Safety Officials Urge Caution When Using Candles

Candles, though among the most enduring of holiday traditions, pose serious hazards unless used with an abundance of care.

That's the message the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department stressed today in its annual effort to prevent fiery household accidents that all too often turn December festivities into family disasters.

As recently as Monday night, an unattended candle set a North Park apartment ablaze, causing $100,000 worth of property damage and sending a resident to a hospital with smoke inhalation.

"Ask a fire-safety expert for advice on candle safely, and the first answer you are likely to get is, `Don't use candles -- period,'" department spokesman Lee Swanson said.

A leading cause of residential fires year-round, candles are a particular problem during the holidays due to their continuing popularity as ornaments and ritual accessories, according to emergency services officials.

"We see it year after year,'' San Diego Fire Marshal Frankie Murphy said. "Because most candle fires are the result of human error or negligence, they are totally preventable."

The overriding lesson is simple, according to Murphy: Whatever you do, never leave a burning candle unattended.

Nationally, candles cause an average of 42 residential fires every day, resulting annually in 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries and $539 million in estimated direct property damage.

The fire department urges the following precautions in use of candles:

  • Make sure they are in sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders and placed where they cannot be knocked over easily.
  • Always burn them on heat-resistant surfaces; they can melt plastic.
  • Never use near combustible objects, such as curtains or decorations.
  • Never place them near windows or exits.
  • Never leave lit candles within reach of small children or pets.
  • Keep burning candles at least four inches apart.
  • Votive and scented candles turn to liquid as they burn, so be sure they are in a glass or metal container.
  • Extinguish candles before leaving a room or going to sleep.
  • Keep the candle wick neatly trimmed down to a quarter-inch in length, to make it burn slower with less smoke; when the flame gets too high, blow it out, let it cool and trim the wick again before re-lighting.
  • Develop a residential escape plan and practice it with family members; have a meeting place outside the home, and make sure everyone in the family knows at least two ways to escape from every room.
  • If there is a fire, escape first, then call for help.

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