ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Nicole Otten stepped outside of her Howell, Mich., home and seconds later heard her daughter’s screams.
Her then-6-year-old daughter, Amelia, became engulfed in flames after playing with a burning candle left in Otten’s bedroom. Paramedics rushed Amelia to the University of Michigan Trauma Burn Center, where doctors treated her for third-degree burns on 35 percent of her body.
A year later, Amelia continues her journey toward recovery with occupational therapy sessions twice a week at the U-M C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital.
Otten says she had heard stories about devastating candle fires, but never imagined it would happen to her family.
And that’s the problem, says Karla Klas, B.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.P., injury prevention specialist at the U-M Trauma Burn Center.
“The more frequently that people use something, the more immune they become to its inherent dangers. We definitely see an increase in candle-related injuries in the winter because people typically use more candles this time of year,” says Klas.
December is the peak month for home candle-related fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association. But keeping your family safe this winter goes past extinguishing candles, Klas says.
Severe cold weather and the holiday season bring new fire hazards into homes. Klas offers several tips to keep your family safe and prevent your holiday plans from going up in flames:
- Place candles on non-flammable plates or surfaces
- Keep away from children, pets and flammable items, such as draperies and linens
- Never leave a burning candle unattended
- Consider safe alternatives, such as flameless LED candles
- Never use candles as a tree decoration
- Avoid overloading sockets with lights or other electrical devices
- Keep all electrical cords on top of rugs
- Always properly water live trees to prevent the needles from drying out, which are more flammable than healthy needles
- Keep space heaters at least three feet from flammable materials
- Space heaters should be in a stable position
- Keep away from children and pets
Fireplaces, wood stoves and furnaces
- Keep wood stoves at least 36 inches from combustible surfaces, making sure it has proper floor support and protection
- Never use flammable liquids to start or accelerate any fire
- Keep a glass or metal screen in front of the fireplace opening, to prevent embers or sparks from jumping out, unwanted material from going in, and help prevent the possibility of burns to occupants
- Before you go to sleep, be sure your fireplace flames are completely extinguished
- Never close your damper with hot ashes in the fireplace
- Furnaces should be inspected to make sure they are in good working condition
- Never leave the kitchen unattended while cooking
- Keep clothing away from open flames
The most effective and cheapest safety tool for any home is a working smoke alarm, says Klas. Having a working fire alarm cuts the risk of dying in a home fire in half.
About the U-M Trauma Burn Center
The University of Michigan Hospital Trauma Burn Center (TBC) is an internationally recognized leader in patient care, research and rehabilitation. The TBC is verified as both a Burn Center and a Level-1 Trauma Center. Its programs address preventable injuries to children, adolescents and adults as well as the medical and social consequences of injury and disability. The TBC is committed to community education on prevention, consequences and treatment of traumatic injury.
National Fire Protection Association
U-M Trauma Burn Center
Written by Heather Guenther
Media contact: Heather Guenther