Candle-Related Fires Rising

ByABC News via logo

Jan. 2, 2001 -- They can be romantic, they can spread exotic aromas and they can add a warm, inviting glow to any home. But they can also be deadly.

Candle sales have been on the rise. And when more people light candles, more candles light deadly fires.

“If you leave an open flame unattended, you’re asking for trouble, ” Mary Kay Appy, of the National Fire Protection Association told Good Morning America. Even the melted wax of a candle can be dangerous, because it can carry a burning wick with it, and set fire to anything close by, she said.

Nationwide, 156 people died in some of the 11,600 fires related to candle use in 1997 , NFPA figures said. The statistics represent an alarming trend: an 82 percent increase in candle-related fires compared to 1990, and an 18-year peak in candle-related blazes.

Candle-Related Deaths

In the last year, 15 New Yorkers have died in fires caused by candles, three times more than in the previous year.

In November, 25-year-old Helen Carnegie, a film student, died when candles left burning at the foot of her bed ignited a fire.

And just days before Christmas, two young children were killed when a candle tumbled under their Christmas tree and caught fire.

In Maine, a 2-year-old boy was killed in a fire later traced to a candle that was left burning. His father, who was critically injured in the blaze, died on Christmas Day.

And in Worcester, Mass. six firefighters were killed in 1999 trying to put out a warehouse fire caused by an overturned candle.

Consumers Buying More Candles

Amid all these accidents, the candle business has been booming, and the sizes and fragrances of candle that are available has mushroomed.

Candles are used in seven out of 10 U.S. households, where most users burn one or two candles for a couple of hours, between one and three times per week. There are twice as many candle fires in December, when candles are given as gifts or lighted as a symbol of the holiday season.

U.S. candle consumer retail sales for 2000 are projected at over $2.3 billion, with prices per candle ranging from 50 cents for a votive candle, to $75 for a large column candle, and as much as $200 for specialty candles.

Since the early 1990s, the industry has averaged a growth rate of 10 to 15 percent annually, and in recent years that growth has doubled.

There are more than 300 known commercial, religious and institutional manufacturers of candles in the United States, as well as many small craft producers for local, non-commercial use. Department stores, gift shops and mass merchandisers, such as drug store chains, sell the most candles.

Typically, a major U.S. candle manufacturer will offer 1,000 to 2,000 varieties of candles in its product line, with types ranging from tapers, straight-sided dinner candles, columns and pillars.

No Candle Standards

Despite the growth in the industry, there are not currently safety standards for candles. Consumers assume that their candleholders are safe, and don’t expect expect them to break or catch fire. But in fact, there are no standards for glass candle containers, and although some holders are made of tempered glass that can withstand high temperatures, others are not.

In a Massachusetts study, 3 percent of the candle fires started when the candleholder broke. All of them were made of glass. More than one-third of candle fires occur because the candle was left unattended.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission has recalled several candles and candle-related products, but until standards are established to regulate the manufacture of candles in the United States, CPSC cannot require imported and domestic candles to meet safety standards. The American Society for Testing and Materials is pursuing the possibility of voluntary safety labels for candles, and is also looking into standards regulating glass candle containers and wax.

CPSC is looking into eliminating lead from the wicks, and self-extinguishing mechanisms that would put candles out when they burned down too far. The organization is also looking into halting the use of dried flowers and other combustibles in the candles themselves.

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