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Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office says Candle Fires Caused $12M in Damages, Claimed Nine Lives Since 2012

Tennessee State Fire MarshalNashville, TN Nothing spreads cheer quite like holiday decorations, but care must be taken to ensure your festive winter décor is fire-safe. To decrease the risk of a home fire, the Tennessee State Fire Marshal’s Office (SFMO) reminds consumers that popular holiday decorations such as candles and string lights can cause tragedy when not used correctly.

During the five-year period of 2012-2016 in Tennessee, candles were reported to have caused 402 residential fires, nine civilian deaths, 31 civilian injuries, eight firefighter injuries and $12 million in fire loss according to SFMO data. 

Candle Burning
Candle Burning

The data also indicated that 43 percent of candle fires started in bedrooms and candles starting fires were unattended 23 percent of the time. 

“December is the time of year for home candle fires to occur, and nearly half of decoration fires happen because decorations are placed too close to a heat source,” said Department of Commerce & Insurance Commissioner and State Fire Marshal Julie Mix McPeak. “Taking a few basic precautions can help prevent these types of fires from occurring and causing a potential tragedy.”

The SFMO encourages Tennesseans to consider using flameless candles, which look and smell like real candles. However, if you do use traditional candles, keep them at least 12” away from anything that can burn, and remember to blow them out when you leave the room or go to bed. Avoid using candles in the bedroom or other areas where people may fall asleep.   

Consider the tips below when you bring out the holiday decorations this year. And remember, as in every season, have working smoke alarms installed on every level of your home, test them monthly and keep them equipped with fresh batteries at all times. Don’t forget to practice your home escape plan!

  • Avoid Using Lit Candles to Decorate. If you do use them, make sure they are in stable holders and place them where they cannot be easily knocked down. Never put lit candles on a tree. Blow out lit candles when you leave the room or go to bed. Never leave a child alone in a room with a lit candle.
  • Maintain Your Holiday Lights. Inspect holiday lights each year for frayed wires, bare spots, gaps in the insulation, broken or cracked sockets, and excessive kinking or wear before putting them up. Not all holiday lights are made equal so be sure that you know whether yours are for indoor or outdoor use and use only lighting listed by an approved testing laboratory. Use clips, not nails, to hang lights to keep cords from getting damaged.
  • Do Not Overload Electrical Outlets. Do not link more than three light strands, unless the directions indicate it is safe. Connect strings of lights to an extension cord before plugging the cord into the outlet. Make sure to periodically check the wires – they should not be warm to the touch.
  • Do Not Leave Holiday Lights on Unattended. Turn them off when you leave the house or go to bed.
  • Use Only Nonflammable Decorations. All decorations should be flame resistant or flame retardant and placed away from heat vents and other heat sources.
  • Never Put Wrapping Paper in a Fireplace. It can result in a very large fire, throwing off dangerous sparks and embers and may result in a chimney fire.
  • Take Care with Christmas Trees. Do not let live trees dry out. Keep them watered and recycle them promptly after the holiday. If you are using a metallic or artificial tree make sure it is flame retardant.
  • Keep Escape Routes Clear. Do not block exit routes with trees or decorations.

For more home fire safety resources, visit tn.gov/fire and download a free 18-month calendar featuring great photos and fire safety tips to last all year long. 


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