Marty Ahrens had joined others at a friend's home when the long-haired cat of the house pranced past a low coffee table studded with lit candles.
The cat's swishing tail burst into flames. "The cat's on fire!" she yelled. Another guest clapped out the fire with her hands, saving the cat -- and possibly the house.
"If we hadn't noticed it," says Ms. Ahrens, "the cat could have raced through the house and quickly caused quite a problem."
As a fire analyst and author of the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) report on home candle fires, Ms. Ahrens knows what she's talking about
The number of fires started by candles has mushroomed. The NFPA says residential candle fires tripled during the 1990s. The NFPA reports that candles were the second most common cause of home fire injuries and led to an estimated average of more than 15,600 reported home fires, 150 fire deaths, and nearly 1,270 injuries each year.
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, more than 38 percent of candle fires break out in bedrooms, where folks can fall asleep or flip bedclothes onto the candles. Leaving candles unattended or putting them too close to combustible materials accounted for more than 50 percent of candle fires.
The best advice? "Remember that a candle is an open flame," Ms. Ahrens says, "and treat it as such."
Use caution with candles
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission advises:
Keep matches, lighters and candles away from children.
Never leave burning candles unattended.
Keep combustible materials away from candles.
Don't put candles in spots where children or pets could knock them down.
Use only nonflammable candleholders.
Always trim wicks before lighting.