People use the glistening glow of candles as decorations and ambience all year long. But over the holiday season especially, parents need to be extra careful. According to a study by the National Fire Protection Association, 14 percent of all home candle fires every year occur in December, almost twice the monthly average. Christmas Day is the peak day, with a yearly average of 180 home fires started from candles between 1999 and 2002, the latest data available. Christmas Eve and New Year's day tied for second.
Forty-seven percent of the deaths from home candle fires every year are youths under age 20.
One of the major causes of home candle fires is leaving a candle unattended, says Nereida Avendano, public education division manager with the State Fire Marshal's office.
"Be extra careful to make sure that the children are not close to them or they have no access to them. Just imagine they're ... opening their presents and all the paper … and you have candles there. Big chances of an accident," she adds.
"Those fires can be prevented."
Avendano also advises parents to teach children that fire and all things to do with fire, such as matches, are not toys.
"You don't want kids that are fascinated by candles to get too close to it, try to pick it up, try it light it," says Lorraine Carli, spokeswoman for the National Fire Protection Association.
Experts advise parents to store candles, matches and related products out of the reach of children and not allow children or teenagers to burn candles in their bedroom. Avoid using candles around children, or if you do use them, be extra careful about where to put them. Be mindful of pets since they can knock candles over, too.
Families should be careful using tall candles on the table. "They're talking. They're passing food around. It's very easy for that candle to fall on the tablecloth and start a fire," Avendano says.
Experts also advise against using candles for emergency lighting or during power outages. Use battery-powered lamps or flashlights instead.