Candle fires a growing hazard

Greatest potential for risks come during the holidays.
Friday, October 8, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 3:24 a.m. CDT, Friday, July 4, 2008

Retailers sell almost $2 billion worth of candles each year in the United States, according to the National Fire Prevention Association, but the growing popularity of candles has an expensive and sometimes deadly downside.

In 2001, candles were to blame for an estimated 18,000 fires, 190 deaths and $265 million in property damage in the United States, according to the National Fire Protection Association.

In Columbia, candles have caused at least two dozen fires since 2000 — an escalating problem that Capt. Steve Sapp of the Columbia Fire Department blames on the popularity of candles.

“The city of Columbia has seen a considerable increase in candle fires over the last four years,” Sapp said.

Most of those fires occur around Christmas. In fact, the National Fire Prevention Association reports that a candle fire is twice as likely to occur in December than at any other time during the year.

Glen Driskell, owner of Ma’s Paws and Gifts, 711 Vandiver Road, said candle sales typically accelerate during the holiday season.

“Starting around Thanksgiving time through the new year, candle business really picks up,” Driskell said.

From 1980 to 1998, property damage attributed to candle fires in the United States was estimated at $80 million a year. From 1999 to 2001, those annual damages skyrocketed to an estimated $289 million.

In Columbia, property damage attributed to candle fires rose from $5,450 in 2000 to more than $240,000 last year,

For personal reasons, Sapp isn’t hesitant to warn others about the hazards of an unattended candle.

“Not long ago, I had a three-inch wick candle burning, the glass shattered and melting wax was dripped, nearly igniting a fire,” Sapp said. “First, I let the wick burn down for too long and second, I made the mistake of leaving the candle unsupervised. It’s one of those things that we don’t think twice about.”

Sapp said though it may seem like a futile plea, he urges people to read the manufacturer’s instructions on candles carefully.

“People must remember that anytime there is an open flame, even if it’s a candle, then there is a potential for a fire,” Sapp said. “Take it from me.”

National Fire Prevention Week began Sunday and continues through Saturday.

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