5 Safety Tips to Keep Holiday Candles from Burning Down the House

Fires caused by candles spike in December.

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If you’re a candle lover, you know that these wax miracles give your home a soothing ambiance and relaxing scent year-round. What many people don’t think about, however, is that each time you light that wick ablaze you’re taking a risk. And this is especially true during the holidays.

Fires caused by candles spike in December, which is no surprise considering Christmas, Kwanzaa, and Hanukkah all include candle-lighting traditions.

Holiday decoration fires affect an estimated 840 homes annually and cost an average of $11.4 million in property damage, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Between 2011 and 2015, candles caused 36 percent of home decoration fires during the holiday season (November to January). Compare that to the full calendar year, where candles account for just 2 percent of home fires.

Although candles exude a cozy warmth, there’s nothing comforting about a fire putting your family and home in danger—especially during the holidays.  The good news is that these fires are totally preventable, and a few careful safety steps can help keep your family safe.

  1. Prep safety devices beforehand. Test your smoke alarms *before* lighting, and consider having a fire extinguisher on hand (it’s a good idea to keep one in your kitchen anyway).

  2. Find a sturdy surface. Choose a stable surface that’s out of reach of kids and pets. The surface should be a non-flammable surface, like ceramic or metal. Avoid setting them on holiday-themed tablecloths or decorative doilies.

  3. Use the 3 Feet Rule. How far away should your candles be from the living room drapes or the Christmas tree? The short answer is “as far as possible.” About 59 percent of candle fires begin when a flammable material is left too close to the candle, according to the NFPA. At the very least, keep candles at least three feet from flammable objects.

  4. Don’t abandon the candle. Under no circumstances should the candle be left unattended. If something were to happen, it might be too late to contain the fire yourself by the time you find it.

  5. Consider a flameless candle. Avoid all the risks and go electric. Flameless candles have gotten—and continue to get—increasingly realistic. They flicker and dance and even have a wax exterior. Some operate on timers and turn on at the same time every evening (and turn off automatically a few hours later). Of course, some religions consider the true flame an essential part of the tradition, and it’s up to each family to decide what’s best for them. It might be worth tweaking tradition to keep your home and family safe.

While candles can be risky, it’s important to note that cooking fires outnumber candle fires—even during the holiday season—so take care while frying your latkes or sautéing the Brussels sprouts.