Candles causing 'thousands of fires' in homes

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Aromatherapy and the fashion for using candles and tea-lights in home decoration is causing dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries from house fires, the Government said yesterday.

Aromatherapy and the fashion for using candles and tea-lights in home decoration is causing dozens of deaths and thousands of injuries from house fires, the Government said yesterday.

The Home Office released figures showing that in a five-year period to the end of 1998, candles were the cause of nearly 7,000 house blazes, resulting in 61 deaths and 3,000 injuries.

The figures suggest that with the increasing preference for candlelit evenings, the number of house blazes caused by candles is rising - from 992 in 1994 to 1,752 in 1998, an increase of 77 per cent. The number of injuries has increased from 455 in 1994 to 772 in 1998 - a rise of 70 per cent.

The Home Office minister Mike O'Brien said: "Candles and night lights are being used and enjoyed in increasing numbers in homes. However, Home Office fire statistics show a worrying increase in the number of fires, fatalities and injuries caused by candle fires."

Mr O'Brien will launch a campaign across England and Wales today to reduce the number of house blazes.

The Home Office is concerned that in spite of the widespread use of smoke alarms and steps to make household furniture less of a fire hazard, house fires are still causing an average of one death and 35 injuries every day.

Figures show candles are now responsible for five house fires every day. Most break out between 9pm and midnight when candles are increasingly being used to add atmosphere, particularly in the living room and bedroom where most of the blazes have started. But 152 of the candle fires in 1998 started in bathrooms, which Home Office officials believe may be linked to the trend of placing tea-lights around the edge of the bath.

Curtains were the material most likely to be set alight by candles, followed by bedding and clothing.

Although cooking activities and cigarettes remain the chief cause of the 160 accidental house fires that break out in England and Wales every day, candles now account for 3 per cent of blazes and 6 per cent of fire injuries.

The Thomas family from South Wales were fortunate not to join the list of fatalities from candle fires after a blaze in the living room filled the house with smoke.

Joanne Thomas, 29, woke up in bed at 2.30am and immediately noticed the smell of a fire. Looking out of the bedroom door she realised that the smoke was too thick to escape downstairs. Her children had fortunately been sleeping in the same room as her and she carried first her two-year-old son and then her five-year-old daughter to another bedroom. She passed the children out of a window on to the flat roof of an extension before climbing out and calling for help.

It later transpired that the fire had been started after one of the family cats had knocked over a candle left burning in the living room.

Ms Thomas believes the family only survived because she had planned a fire escape route in advance. "When I woke up I went into auto pilot; there was no time to panic," she said.

The Home Office campaign will emphasise that smoke alarms provide crucial early warning signals and that you are six times more likely to die in a fire if you do not have such adevice.

But advice issued to 22 million households will say a smoke alarm may be effective only if the occupants are aware of their escape routes from the house.

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