Saturday, December 13, 2008

Candles Can Start Fires...

Ooops... a candle burned itself out... hot enough to shatter the heavy glass plate under it.

candle remains
Yikes... hot enough to scorch the wall and shelf above the candle.

soot on shelf above candle
Holy cow... hot enough to cover the walls and ceiling with invasive and oily soot.

soot on walls
OMG... look at the soot on the closet curtains.

soot on curtains
Silent awe... what happened here?

soot attracted by electrical current
I think the pictures tell most of the story, but I'll give you a few details. Last weekend I joined my neighbor in her studio to do a holiday show. She makes soaps, lotions, candles, etc. I bring beaded jewelry.

Below a section of my display. I fill a small room with jewelry, including an 8 ft. table, a bookcase, a large dresser and this desk.

Robin Atkins jewelry display
The room I'm in is normally a guest bedroom with a small bathroom attached. Just before the sale started, I lit a candle sitting in a bed of lavender on a glass plate on a shelf in the bathroom. After the show ended, we decided to leave our displays up for a day or two, in case someone who couldn't make our regular hours might want to come and take a look. We blew out the candles, picked up our purses, locked the studio and headed for home.

Obviously, either my memory of blowing out the candle is false OR I didn't get it completely out. Because during the night and the next day, the thing burned. The wax of the candle and the lavender (remember, it's used in smudging) flowed together and smoldered, creating an unbelievable amount of soot that went everywhere in the bathroom and bedroom. The outlet is an interesting thing. An electrician came to check for damage and said the electrical current in the wiring to the nightlight (which was plugged into the outlet) attracted soot. The streak you see above the outlet goes three feet up the wall.

It took a while for it to dawn on me how serious this was. Just a little hotter and the towel next to the candle would have caught fire, which would have made the curtains flame. A fire could easily have destroyed the whole building along with all my jewelry and all of Gayle's products and antiques. We were blessed. I was especially blessed, because I was the one who lit the candle and therefore responsible for making sure it was completely snuffed before leaving.

As I mentioned, the soot went everywhere. Below is a jewelry box that was under the table, as far from the candle as you can get. There were two tent-cards for earring display sitting on top of the box. You can even see my finger prints where I picked up the box.

soot damage to jewelry box
Everything in both rooms got a dusting of soot. I had to wash all of the jewelry and re-card/tag it (two days work). Many of the boxes and all of my signs got trashed. The soot washed out of all the linens, curtains, towels, etc. fairly well using dish-detergent and bleach. The carpet in the bedroom will have to be professionally cleaned. Monday, we will try to wash the walls, ceilings and furniture.

Thankful prayers... Soot we can clean. Fire would have been a disaster.

Warning... Candles are a common causes of home fires. It's easy to forget to blow them out and even when you do, there could be an ember burning that gets them going again. From now on, I plan to use the buddy system. When I light a candle, I will ask a buddy to help me remember to blow it out... I'll also wet my fingers and pinch the wick to make double sure it's out.

Read more about candle safety, especially at Christmas time, here.


  1. OMG - how lucky! I had candles burning at a Christmas party once. They didn't burn too long or anything but they produced tons of soot. It all found it's way to my sewing room (because it was attracted by the air cleaner). The next time I went to my sewing room the white carpet had a huge black circle around the air cleaner. I had never had that happen. Maybe there was something specific abut that candle that produced the soot.

  2. Thanks for the warning and I'm so glad there wasn't more damage!

  3. Thanks for the warning and the detailed description of what can so easily happen! I'm happy that disaster was averted in spite of the laborious clean up work...

  4. Thank goodness you are ok! what a warning that is to others..........and here I am just dropping in after such a long time to wish you and your dear family and friends a very happy holiday season!!


  5. I am not a fan of candles!

  6. That is scary. I'm glad it wasn't worse than it was.

  7. Wow! You had an angel watching over you for sure!

    Even with the near-tragedy averted, though, I can't help but scrutinize the first picture closely. The glass, the ash... what amazing colors together! I guess it's the artist in me, but I wonder if something can be done in those colors to commemorate the near miss? After all, technically, it was a happy ending.

  8. A close call for sure! Yikes. It always pays to be double sure. Good reminder!

  9. To All ~ Yes, it was indeed a close call and we are very lucky! It was scarey... My legs were shaking as I picked up my sooted jewelry to bring home.

    To Vicky ~ Interesting... I'll have to do a little research about this.

    To LoneBeader ~ As of now, I'm not much of a candle fan either, although if our power goes out in this NW storm we're having, I'll be lighting them AND supervising them!

    To Laura ~ Never even thought once about the artistic merit of the shattered dish and burnt lavender... You opened my eyes to it... I'll give a "Near Miss" piece some thought... Thanks!

  10. Oh my goodness, that is scarey!! Most of the time, I use a candle warmer instead of a candle - with three dogs and two cats, I just want to be safe.

    Glad that everyone was safe and damages were minimal (time consuming, but minimal).....

  11. Hi Robin

    I am so glad that this was not more of a disaster then it was.

    When I first started crazy quilting I was in a round robin with a gal that requested no candles as gifts - she told me she had lost her home. Burnt to the ground due to a candle. Ever since then I put candles around but very rarely light them. I always think of her and her tragedy.



    I was in your class in Chicago 2 years ago and had a wonderful 2 days. I wear my spirit bag and get many compliments on it. Thanks to you.

  12. OMG! What a scary story! But so glad to hear it wasn't a full blown fire -whew!

  13. I'll be really careful with my candles from now on. What a relief it wasn't worse.

    I used to smoke and I always wondered why the sockets got so yellow. I'm so glad I finally was able to kick that terrible addiction.

  14. Anonymous11:06 AM

    Thanks goodness you were both OK.

    With the weather being so weird, its the one thing I worry about with my kids now they live away from home as they like to keep warm.

    The one reason we didn't have a fire place put in our house when it was built was the concern of blocked chimneys in houses mainly built of plywood

    If there is a storm in the area we always have our battery operated storm lights available. My husband just doesn't trust candles and seeing your story I can see why.

  15. Such a scary thing, and so much blessing at the same time, amazing !

    Has this changed your perception of your jewelery ?

    I had a bad experience recently with a candle smudged in essential oil placed inside a glass ; the glass cracked after getting in contact with the candle, and there was also black fumes becauseo fthe oil. Fortunately I watched it all the time and it was a very small candle.

    With love from France.

  16. Thank the Universe this turned out okay! One thing living with bouncing kitties has taught me -- battery-operated candles are the best!

  17. You and your friend were both lucky this didn't turn out worse.

    We were stuck without power after a huge snowstorm last night, and had to light many candles. My hawk eyes never left our 7 year old, who was morbidly fascinated with the multiple flames. Mind you, I think she just wanted to have at it with a good blowing out session, à la "Birthday Cake" extinguishing... :/

    So blessed you are.

  18. Oh My Goodness Robin!! Lookat this event as a blessing!!! First of all your guardian angels were in charge and second, you have learned a great lesson!! i love candles and all but I married a Fire Protection Engineer who is also an ELc=ectrical Enginneer. He will not allow candles in th house unless they are used in those warmer pots- no open flame . and he will not allow fresh Christams trees. This part breaks my heart as I have always had fresh trees growing up- we have adjusted with fresh boughs g=brought in and then discarde when they dry out!!! I have seen far too many tree's go up in smoke and cost people their homes and lives. Don't mean to be aa wet blanket but things happen especailly when there are lots of distractions!!!
    All is well and you are doing a great service in spreading th wrod about safety!!!!!

  19. Anonymous3:50 PM

    Holy cow how scary!! Thank God everyone (and the building) were all right. This will serve as a reminder for me to check to make sure the candle is actually out before I leave the room! Thank you for the warning!


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!