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The Latest Flame: Why Candles Should Be Banned

Those of us with a morbid fear of fire have a lot to think about in the news these days.

Wildfires in Australia have killed close to 200 and still threaten lives. Meanwhile, a huge luxury hotel under construction in Beijing caught fire and burned spectacularly. Both of these sad episodes will become evidence in my ongoing efforts to ban candles.

Now, candles haven't yet been linked to either fire. In Australia authorities think arsonists may be involved. In China the culprit was fireworks set off too close to the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. (Whoops.) But I'm sure you'll agree that candles are the spawn of Satan and should be wiped off the face of the Earth.

Now, the occasional candle stuck in a chianti bottle at a romantic dinner is acceptable, especially if the chianti bottle rests in a bed of sand or raked earth and a Halon fire-suppression system is installed in the ceiling. What I have trouble with is the resurgence of the candle as a ubiquitous household appliance, odor-remover or mood-enhancer.

I blame 1980s music videos for resurrecting a technology that Thomas Edison thought he had laid to rest. You have to wonder how much the candle-industrial complex paid the Police to shill for their product in the "Wrapped Around Your Finger" video, candle-porn of the worst kind.

Today, candles aren't just for dinner anymore. Housewives are supposed to light them to fill their rancid kitchens with the scent of lavender vanilla. Lovers are meant to surround bathtubs with flickering tapers. Funny how these fantasies never include a wrinkled, dripping couple having to scrape wax off the porcelain.

Why my antipathy toward a column of wax around a wick? Well my step-brother did almost burn the house down with an unattended candle. And I've written in my column about a little girl who was severely burned when a candle caught her skirt on fire. I just can't get comfortable around the things, especially when they're used as a piece of decor, scattered around a room, each one burning malevolently. I dread power outages.

So, please do your part. Write your representative. Start a petition. Gather your candles and throw them in the fireplace. Fireplaces I like. Just make sure the fire's totally out before you go to bed.

What do you think?

By John Kelly  |  February 10, 2009; 8:15 AM ET
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Just a few weeks ago, there was a fire at my condominium complex due to a candle that was knocked over and left unattended for too long. That condo was totaled, but 9 other units have some damage. I'm sure those residents would like to see candles banned.

Posted by: Diner65 | February 10, 2009 10:08 AM | Report abuse

Well, my wife is one of many people who are allergic to many fragrances, including ones commonly used in candles. That means that even having them just lying about unlit polluting the air can cause her major migraines. Definitely would support banning candles.

Posted by: DadWannaBe | February 10, 2009 2:42 PM | Report abuse

The candle issue is a major bone of contention at our house. My wife is also sensitive to smells, but unfortunately not the ones produced by scented candles. Therefore honest odors like cooked bacon must be extinguished with by lighting a pine or balsam scented candle, on top of the stove (when not in use). I have pointed out the danger of fire, and shown admirable restraint when a neglected candle in our powder room melted all over the back of the toilet and onto the floor and walpaper. Obviously we are in the minority, but with the ubiquitous availability of electricity, there is no reason in the world to use candles.

Posted by: reddragon1 | February 10, 2009 4:03 PM | Report abuse

Let me speak up in favor of candles. I like to burn jar candles, both for ambience and for fragrance. I grew up with them, as my mom has always used candles (far more than I do). For that reason, I learned to be very careful with them, and I've never had any kind of incident. (Also, I always use glass jars or votive holders, or burn thick candles; I don't trust open, free-standing tapered candles.) I haven't found a better way to add fragrance to a room -- potpourri cookers are messy and not without risks, sprays and carpet foams are short-lived and too chemical-y, plug-ins aren't convenient because my free outlets aren't in the right places, and so on.

I no longer live in an apartment, so to the extent I'm taking a risk, it doesn't affect anyone else. Besides, I was always more worried about a neighbor dropping a cigarette on a couch or bed (a common cause of fires) than about candles.

Posted by: Janine1 | February 10, 2009 5:05 PM | Report abuse

You can't beat candles for romantic atmosphere...on a dinner table...where they are closely watched. And you haven't had a true Christmas without candles on the Christmas tree. This is still customary for many in Germany, but the small candles (about 6" high in metal holders clamped on the branches) are only lighted briefly - maybe 15-30 minutes at a time - and everyone is very alert, concentrating on the beauty of it.

Posted by: OldLady1 | February 10, 2009 11:24 PM | Report abuse

Candles rule. It is not rocket science to figure out where the appropriate / inappropriate places are within a home to burn candles. Only those who choose to, burn them in inappropriate places. And those who choose to burn inappropriately will then get burned down. Nature culls the litter, who are we to thwart her wisdom?

Posted by: ceblakeney | February 11, 2009 9:30 PM | Report abuse

Back when I was 9 or 10, we had an almost-burned-down-the-house-at-Christmas moment. I'll spare you the details, but it was candle related and actually had nothing to do with lack of care, just a one-in-a-million happenstance.

Ever since, I am super careful about my candles. I rarely have anything bigger than a tea-light, and even then, I put them in deep, heavy-bottomed candle holders. The one jar candle I keep for eliminating cooking odors (out here in "Today's High will be -10" Wisconsin winters, they are a necessary evil) is watched like a hawk until it gets to a place where the flame is deep inside the jar. And the thing sits on a cork trivet, to boot.

I even make sure to put my Halloween Jack-o-Lanterns on the decorative stones in front of my house, not on the front porch or the TONS of dry leaves on the ground that time of year. When it comes to candle flame I am, in a word, watchful.

But that being said, I don't think candles should be banned. In the hands of the careless/thoughtless, they cause no less damage than any other piece of technology - ancient or modern. Someone prone to burning candles in an unsafe manner is probably prone to doing lots of other things unsafely, you know?

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 13, 2009 9:24 AM | Report abuse

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