DEAR ABBY: Over the last 25 years, Americans have done a great deal to prevent fires in their homes. Home fire fatalities in the United States have dropped 50 percent since the 1970s, thanks in part to public awareness and education. Technology such as smoke alarms has helped, too -- by alerting home occupants when fires start and giving them time to escape.
However, while most categories of fire continue to decline, one category is on the upswing: candle fires. That is why this year, during Fire Prevention Week, the National Fire Protection Association is focusing its efforts on offering important candle safety information to Dear Abby readers.
Some facts to consider about candle fires: More candles are now being sold, and the result has been more fires. Candles have become such popular decorative accessories that during the last decade in the U.S., fires caused by candles have tripled in number to 18,000 per year. Forty percent of these fires begin in the bedroom, causing one-quarter of the deaths associated with candles! (December has almost twice the number of home candle fires as any other month.)
How can you safely enjoy candles at home? Extinguish them when leaving the room or before going to sleep. Make sure all candles are placed in sturdy holders, large enough to collect dripping wax. Keep them out of reach of children or pets. And use a flashlight -- not a candle -- for emergency lighting.
Thank you, Abby, for reminding your readers to be responsible when using candles. I hope everyone who reads this will take the necessary steps to guard against fire in their homes. -- JAMES M. SHANNON, PRESIDENT, NATIONAL FIRE PROTECTION ASSOCIATION
DEAR JAMES: Thank you for wanting to protect my readers. Candles have, indeed, become popular home accessories -- just open the cover of any home decorating magazine and see the many ways they are displayed in the decor of patios, living rooms, dining rooms, bathrooms and "romantic" bedrooms.
(Two fatalities occurred in Chicago when a woman lighted a candle in her bedroom and then left the room. Her bed caught fire, and the smoke spread to her neighbors' apartments. She escaped, but tragically two of her neighbors died of smoke inhalation.)
Readers, Fire Prevention Week (Oct. 9-15) is not only a reminder, but also an opportunity to check around your homes for other fire hazards, and to be sure your smoke (and carbon monoxide) detectors are properly installed and maintained. It is also the time to review and practice with your families what escape plans you have in place in the event of an emergency. (You should have two alternative plans, and everyone in the household should be familiar with what they are.)