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Report: NFPA's "Home Candle Fires"
Marty Ahrens
Issued: December 2013

This report includes an analysis of causes and trends in home fires involving candles, candle fire frequency in other occupancies, and selected published incident descriptions.

Executive Summary

During 2007-2011, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 10,630 home structure fires started by candles per year. These fires caused an annual average of 115 civilian deaths, 903 civilian fire injuries, and $418 million in direct property damage. Candles caused 3% of the reported home fires, 4% of home fire deaths, 7% of home fire injuries, and 6% of direct property damage during this period. On average, 29 home candle fires were reported per day. Unless otherwise specified, the home candle fire statistics that follow are based on the 2007-2011 time period.

  • More than one-third (36%) of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 39% of the associated deaths and 45% of the associated injuries. The 16% of fires that started in living rooms, family rooms, or dens caused one-quarter (24%) of the deaths. Fourteen percent (14%) of the fires started in bathrooms and 11% began in kitchens or cooking areas.
  • Candle fires start with a variety of burnable items. Eleven percent began with a mattress or bedding; these fires caused 17% of the home candle fire deaths. An unclassified type of furniture or utensil was the item first ignited in another 11% of fires. Nine percent started when a curtain, blind or drapery ignited. Cabinetry was first ignited in 7% of the fires. Upholstered furniture was first ignited in 6% of the fires, resulting in one-quarter (25%) of the home candle fire deaths.
  • Twelve percent of the home candle fires occurred in December, 1.5 times the monthly average of 8%. December candle fires often involve combustible seasonal decorations that would not have been present at other times of the year. From January to November, decorations were first ignited in only 4% of the home candle fires. This jumped to 11% in December. In other words, the heightened candle fire risk around the winter holidays reflects a combination of increased candle use and more things that can burn in the area around the candles.
  • The top three days for home candle fires were Christmas, New Year’s Day, and Christmas Eve.
  • More than half (56%) of the home candle fires occurred when some form of combustible material was too close to the candle. Keep candles at least 12 inches from anything that can burn.
  • Unattended equipment or abandoned materials or products were contributing factors in almost one of every five (18%) home candle fires. Never leave a burning candle unattended. Blow out candles when you leave a room.
  • Four percent were started by people (typically children) playing with the candle. Keep candles up high out of the reach of children. Never leave a child unattended in a room with a candle. A child should not sleep in a room with a lit candle.
  • Two percent started when the candle was bumped into or knocked over. Make sure candles are placed on a stable piece of furniture in sturdy holders that won’t tip over. Place candles away from spots where they could be knocked over by children or pets.
  • An improper container or storage was a factor in another 2% of the fires. Candles should fit in the holders securely and holders should be made from material that can’t burn.
  • Falling asleep was a factor in 11% percent of the home candle fires and 37% of the associated deaths. Extinguish all candles before going to sleep.
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