Candles: Friend or foe?

Candle in dishThere is little doubt that in centuries past the candle was an essential tool for providing light, particularly before the advent of gas lights and subsequently electric lights. Indeed some people still keep candles for emergencies. However, with battery powered (and indeed wind-up), torches you have to ask if that is really necessary any longer?


Candles are almost always used simply for decorative purposes or because they smell nice these days. Whether that is in the form of tea-lights in a ceramic jar or a nicely scented candle, or even a pack of candles on a cake to mark a certain age, they are not strictly speaking a necessity any longer.

Candle and curtain

Whatever the reason for using candles it is important to be aware of the fire risk involved. A candle is after all a naked flame and as such an extremely good source of ignition. It is fair to say that a lit candle and readily combustible materials such as cloth, paper and (certain) plastics are not a good mix and can lead to dire consequences.


According to government statistics covering April 2012 to March 2013 (the latest published) candles were the source of ignition in over 1,000 accidental fires that year.

This is not helped by the situations in which candles are often used; be that a birthday party or other celebration, there is often alcohol being consumed so people don’t always make the best decisions about where to place the candles and may not be as observant when things start to go wrong.

Candle heartFor example the London Fire Brigade reported an incident in February 2012; a woman suffered burns in a game that involved making ‘wedding dresses’ out of toilet roll, at a hen party in a central London pub. One of the hens, wrapped in toilet roll, noticed that some paper on a table had been ignited by a tea light candle.  She leant over to put the fire out and the paper she was wrapped in caught fire. She threw herself to the ground and managed to put the flames out, but sustained burns to her chest and hand in the process.

The Daily Mail reported how in August this year a girl’s boyfriend managed to burn their bedroom down and do considerable damage to the rest of the house when he tried to make a romantic tribute to her using tea-light candles. Intended as a romantic gesture to welcome her home, he laid the candles out in a heart shape on the bedroom floor with some champagne and flowers. Unfortunately, the candles set light to the floor covering and rapidly spread involving the whole room in fire and the rest of the property in smoke.

The Dangers

Candle in a jarSo, What to Do?

Does this mean you should never use candles? In an ideal world, yes, as they are by their very nature (a naked flame) potentially dangerous. There are these days many alternatives that use low voltage batteries and are far less of a fire hazard. If however, only the flicker of a real flame will do, then be sensible and take precautions.

If you have questions about fire risk assessment, or for help on any aspect of fire safety, call us on 01524 784356 today.

Commercial buildings, non-domestic and multi-occupancy premises in England and Wales are already forced to undertake a 'suitable and sufficient' fire risk assessment carried out under the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005. While the overwhelming majority of premises do this, if the assessment is thought to have been carried out to an insufficient extent, the Responsible Person can face an unlimited fine or up to two years in prison.

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