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Candle problem waxes in South Kitsap

Sometimes a fad can turn deadly.

Over the years, candles have enjoyed a resurgence in popularity.

Countless stores specialize in scented, molded, sculptured and even floating versions. Catalogues offer an even wider variety, including those labeled “hand-dipped” or “natural beeswax.” “Candle parties” have supplanted Tupperware parties in many places.

Even stores which do not normally sell home decor — supermarkets, stationary stores, even mini-marts — have succumbed to the high demand for candles.

“If you walk into stores these days, you see these huge candle displays,” said Fire District 7 spokeswoman Lisa Kirkemo.

Kirkemo has seen the darker side of this candle-buying frenzy.

In the past year, fires ignited by candle accidents have jumped 100 percent over the previous year’s totals. The damage from these fires can be significant, too.

In September, candles left burning on a kitchen table ignited nearby papers while the home occupants were out doing errands. By the time the residents returned to their Carter Avenue home, much of the interior had been ruined by thick smoke. Total loss was estimated at $67,000.

One of the two family cats also died in the blaze.

In November, a teenage boy left a votive candle burning in his family’s garage, attached to his Pioneer Place home. By the time the boy returned to the garage, it was already engulfed in flames. The fire completely destroyed the contents of the garage, including the boy’s mother’s collection of priceless museum-quality dolls.

Smoke also seeped into the house, which sustained minor damage as a result. Because of the difficulty in valuing the dolls, no final damage estimate was available.

And finally, earlier this month, a woman nearly died after leaving candles burning around her bathtub after she went to bed.

The 55-year-old woman was rescued by a man walking by her Madrona Road residence who saw smoke and stopped to help. When he opened the door and found the woman, she was extremely disoriented — likely from smoke inhalation — and could not find a way out of her blazing home.

Apparently, the woman lit the candles to take a bath and then failed to extinguish them. Fire investigators could not tell what specifically in the bathroom was first ignited by the candles because the damage was too severe.

The woman’s entire living area, which was located in a garage, was completely destroyed. Three cars parked in the same garage suffered severe heat damage as well.

The total damage was estimated at $45,000

“The woman lost everything,” Kirkemo said. “She had nothing left.

In total, between Jan. 1, 2002 and Jan. 12, 2003, there were seven candle-related fires in Fire District 7’s coverage area. These constituted 10 percent of the total fires for 2002 — and amount Kirkemo said was “significant.”

For the same period in 2001, there were only three candle fires.

“Candle fires across the U.S. are on the rise — big rise,” Kirkemo said. “And our statistics are mirroring that.”

All in all, however, Kirkemo said the district is very grateful none of these fires resulted in fatalities.

In late 2000, candles caused two fire fatalities after two teenage girls in Bremerton left a candle burning on the headboard of a bed. The candle burnt down, ignited the bed and quickly spread. The girls, trapped in the blazing room, apparently tried to hide in an attached bathroom, and died there of smoke inhalation. That same week, two other people died in fires as well. Even though the fire happened outside of South Kitsap, Kirkemo said the dead girls still stand as a reminder of how dangerous unattended candles can be.

“Candles are extremely dangerous if not handled correctly,” Kirkemo said.

Box:

Fire District 7 urges residents to be aware of the three major rules of candle safety:

*Never leave candles unattended, even for a short time. Always extinguish candles before going to bed or leaving the house.

*Make sure nothing that can catch fire is anywhere near the candle — fire officials recommend at least a one-foot radius for safety. To protect the surface beneath the candle, all candles must be placed on or in a non-flammable holder as well.

*Candles should be kept away from all kids 18 years or younger.

“Candles and kids aren’t a good mix,” said Fire District 7 spokeswoman Lisa Kirkemo. “They’re kind of in an invincible time of their lives and they can not be as careful.”

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