Schenectady County

Firefighters warn of dangers of careless candle use

Fires caused by candles are increasing exponentially, Schenectady Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco war

Fires caused by candles are increasing exponentially, Schenectady Fire Chief Michael Della Rocco warned as the most popular season for decorating with flames reaches its peak.

Among the warnings: some menorahs, which hold Hanukkah candles, have decorative elements that are not flame-retardant. And any candle holder, religious or not, is generally not safe if the candle burns down to within two inches of the base, according to the Firemen’s Association of the State of New York.

Candles left to burn down on their own are the ones that most commonly start fires.

The jar or holder can crack from the concentrated heat, spilling the flames onto nearby surfaces. That’s often when the candle sets fire to a Christmas tree, curtains, a couch or other flammable objects, the association warned in a “holiday season fire safety list” that it urged people to check twice, just like Santa’s list.

Fires at this time of year kill 400 people in the United States annually and injure about 1,600 others, according to the U.S. Fire Administration.

Della Rocco said people seem to forget about fire safety when they put up a tree and start wrapping presents.

“Maybe they don’t fully comprehend the danger of an open flame and highly flammable materials,” he said. “We’ve had a number of these.”

The Capital Region has had just one death this year from a fire started by candles, but elsewhere in the state, such fires have destroyed entire apartment buildings.

In April, a woman died after a candle lit her bed on fire in Saratoga Springs. In that case, the flames spread to the bed and wall before a neighbor was able to drag the woman to safety. She succumbed to her injuries a few days later.

In February, a 3-year-old Schenectady boy was badly burned after a candle he was playing with ignited his shirt. More than 15 percent of his body was burned.

But far worse has happened in other parts of the state. In April, tenants in a New York City apartment building lit candles after the electricity was cut off during foreclosure proceedings.

The building was illegally subdivided, and after a candle started a fire, one family could not reach a fire escape. A 12-year-old boy and his parents died.

In Huguenot, Orange County, three children died in 2009 after a candle was left burning overnight in a hallway outside their room. After the fire took hold, they could not escape through the hallway. They died of smoke inhalation after being unable to remove an air conditioner in their window.

The Firemen’s Association warned candle users to blow out flames when they go to sleep or leave the room and to make sure the candle holders can’t be easily tipped over.

If the base isn’t wide and heavy, the association said residents should place the candles well out of reach of guests, who might knock a candle over accidentally.

Candles should also be at least a foot from any flammable material, the association said.

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