This fiscal year alone, candles have caused 53 structure fires in San Diego, according to the fire department. Since January 2006, fires caused by candles have led to the deaths of four people and injured nine others. The fires caused more than $3.7 million in property damage, said Maurice Luque, Fire and Rescue Department spokesman. This is an increase over 2005, during which four deaths, two injuries and $1.3 million in damages were reported.
According to a National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) report, 40 percent of residential fires are caused by candles and started in bedrooms. An additional 17 percent start in living rooms, dens or common rooms.
While not all home fires are the result of unattended candles, the San Diego Fire and Rescue Department is asking residents to be careful.
The first seven months of 2006 brought a 70-percent increase from the year before in residential fires in San Diego, according to the department.
One of the most recent was a residential fire on Dec. 26 in South Mission Beach on the 800 block of Aspen Court.
The fire started at approximately 5:30 a.m., injuring two people. One person was hospitalized for burns and another was treated for smoke inhalation at the scene. The fire started when a couch near a floor furnace ignited.
The San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter of Red Cross also announced that residential fires dominated its disaster relief responsibilities for 2006. The local chapter provided services for 215 residential fires. The largest were a multi-unit apartment downtown that displaced 15 families, and a fire at the Bell Hotel, 1492 K St., which affected 40 adults.
Both organizations have suggestions on lowering the risk of starting a fire this winter season. Luque said residents should be attentive, be aware of the worst-case scenario and always have a smoke alarm.
Precautions residents can take to immediately reduce their risk include:
"¢ Never leave candles unattended
"¢ Don't leave any materials around or close to a burning candle
"¢ Keep candles away from drafts or vents
"¢ Be sure to extinguish all flames and candles before going to bed or leaving the room
"¢ Keep candles away from children and pets
"¢ Do not allow candles in children's bedrooms
"¢ Place candles in sturdy holders so they cannot be easily knocked over
"¢ Extinguish candles after using them during a power outage. It is better to use a flashlight during a power outage.
"¢ Trim candlewicks to 1/2 inch before using them
"¢ Do not burn candles for more than four hours at a time
"¢ Extinguish taper or pillar candles when they get within 2 inches of the holder
"¢ Keep matches, wick trimmings and foreign objects out of the candle wax
"We're trying to bring the attention of the public to the serious nature of [fire hazards] and the things people can do to remain safe," Luque said.
Other causes of fires include smoking cigarettes, ashes from cigarettes, faulty electrical panels, old and damaged ovens containing unattended food, and excessive lint in a clothes dryer or dryer hose, he continued.
But should the unthinkable happen, Luque said it is important to immediately call the fire department.
"[People] can lose 10 to 15 minutes trying to stop the fire instead of calling right away," he said.
For more information and safety tips, visit www.sdarc.org.