Report: NFPA's "Home Candle Fires"
Author: Marty Aherns
Issued: November 2012
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.
During 2006-2010, U.S. fire departments responded to an estimated average of 11,640 home structure fires started by candles per year. These fires caused an annual average of 126 civilian deaths, 953 civilian fire injuries, and $438 million in direct property damage. Candles caused 3% of the reported home fires, 5% of home fire deaths, 7% of home fire injuries, and 6% of direct property damage during this period. On average, 32 home candle fires were reported per day. Unless otherwise specified, the home candle fire statistics that follow are based on 2006-2010 time period.
- Roughly one-third (35%) of home candle fires started in bedrooms. These fires caused 42% of the associated deaths and 45% of the associated injuries. The 16% of fires that started in living rooms, family rooms, or dens caused 20% 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 11% of these incidents. Nine percent started when a curtain, blind or drapery ignited. Cabinetry was first ignited in 8% of the fires. Upholstered furniture was first ignited in 6% of the fires, resulting in one-quarter (23%) 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 one of every five (19%) home candle fires. Never leave a burning candle unattended. Blow out candles when you leave a room.
- Four percent were started by people (usually 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 43% of the associated deaths. Extinguish all candles before going to sleep.
Candle fires have been falling since the 2001 peak.
From 1980, the first year of available data, to 1990, the number of home candle fires had been falling. They then started climbing. Incidents peaked in 2001 and have fallen since then. Even so, the estimate of 9,600 fires reported in 2010 is still 1.4 times the 6,800 reported in 1990, the previous low. The number of candle fires was stable from 2009 to 2010.
The share of home structure fires started by candles jumped from 1% in the early 1980’s to 5% in 1999, 2001, and 2002, partly because total home fires had declined so much since 1980 and partly because candle fires had increased. The share fell to 4% from 2004 to 2006, inclusive. In 2007, the share dropped to 3% and has remained there.
Using candles for light can be dangerous.
NFPA reviewed fire service reports and news clips about 117 identified fatal home candle fires in 2005-2010 that resulted in a total of 177 civilian fire deaths. Candles were used for light in the absence of power in 30, or one-quarter (26%), of these fires and 60, or one-third (34%), of the associated deaths. The reason for the lack of power was mentioned in 25 of the fires and 50 of the deaths.
In roughly two-thirds of the no-power fires and deaths where the reason was known, the power had either been shut off or the home lacked utilities. In one-quarter of these fires and 12% of the deaths, the power outage was storm-related. Eleven people were killed in 2005 when they used candles when moving into a Louisiana home before the power had been connected. Participants in focus groups conducted by the Environics Research Group for Health Canada were more likely to leave candles burning in several rooms during power outages than when the power was on.
Lacerations were the most common type of candle or candlestick injury.
According to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC’s) National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS), an estimated 9,700 people were seen at hospital emergency rooms for injuries from candles, candlesticks or related items during 2011. Two out of five (39%) candle-related injuries that year were lacerations and one-fifth (21%) were thermal burns. Some of the lacerations were caused by falling, sharp or broken candleholders; some occurred while candles were being trimmed or wax was being removed from candleholders. Some of the burns were from the hot wax, others were from fires started by the candle.
ASTM’s voluntary standards address candles and accessories.
The ASTM subcommittee F15.45 was created to address candle safety issues in 1997. Since then, it has issued a variety of candle-safety standards, including standards addressing terminology, fire safety labeling, glass candle containers, visible emissions, and fire safety for candles and candle accessories. These standards can be incorporated into law, contracts, codes and procedures.