Candles: friend or foe?

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk

There is little doubt that in centuries past the candle was an essential tool for providing light, particularly before the advent of gas lights and subsequently electric lights. Indeed some people still keep candles for emergencies. However, with battery powered (and indeed wind-up), torches you have to ask if that is really necessary any longer?

Candles are almost always used simply for decorative purposes or because they smell nice these days. Whether that is in the form of tea-lights in a ceramic jar or a nicely scented candle, or even a pack of candles on a cake to mark a certain age, they are not strictly speaking a necessity any longer.

Whatever the reason for using candles it is important to be aware of the fire risk involved. A candle is after all a naked flame and as such an extremely good source of ignition. It is fair to say that a lit candle and readily combustible materials such as cloth, paper and (certain) plastics are not a good mix and can lead to dire consequences.

According to government statistics covering April 2012 to March 2013 (the latest published) candles were the source of ignition in over 1,000 accidental fires that year.

This is not helped by the situations in which candles are often used; be that a birthday party or other celebration, there is often alcohol being consumed so people don’t always make the best decisions about where to place the candles and may not be as observant when things start to go wrong.

For example the London Fire Brigade reported an incident in February 2012; a woman suffered burns in a game that involved making ‘wedding dresses’ out of toilet roll, at a hen party in a central London pub. One of the hens, wrapped in toilet roll, noticed that some paper on a table had been ignited by a tea light candle.  She leant over to put the fire out and the paper she was wrapped in caught fire. She threw herself to the ground and managed to put the flames out, but sustained burns to her chest and hand in the process.

The Daily Mail reported how in August this year a girl’s boyfriend managed to burn their bedroom down and do considerable damage to the rest of the house when he tried to make a romantic tribute to her using tea-light candles. Intended as a romantic gesture to welcome her home, he laid the candles out in a heart shape on the bedroom floor with some champagne and flowers. Unfortunately, the candles set light to the floor covering and rapidly spread involving the whole room in fire and the rest of the property in smoke.

The Dangers

  • The base of tea-light candles can get extremely hot. The metallic container containing the wax will conduct the heat from the melted wax very effectively. If placed on surfaces like carpet (as in the above example) or for instance on top of a plastic TV, the heat generated is sufficient to melt and ignite the surface eventually.

  • Similarly creative use of tea-lights as part of a decoration, where they are mounted inside a wreath at Christmas for example, is asking for trouble.

  • Another common mistake is placing candles on a windowsill. Due to the location the candle will often be subject to a breeze, fanning the flame higher, feeding it with oxygen. Above the candle will often be a ready source of fuel for a fire in the form of curtains and/or blinds. It is a mistake to think that a flame has to actually touch combustible material to ignite it; the heat from a flame can be significant for quite some distance above the visible flame.

  • Those wonderfully scented candles, such as the Yankee candle range. Inherently you would assume they are less of a danger as they are enclosed in a glass jar? And to a certain extent they are. But remember that if left on for a while the glass jar can get extremely hot, if you forget this and try to pick it up to extinguish or move it you could get a nasty burn and drop the candle. Also, as above, be careful when placed beneath ignitable materials such as curtains.

  • Whatever you do, please do not put candles on or under Christmas trees. Hopefully this is an obvious one, but artificial trees and even real ones as they age, can be highly combustible.

  • Another popular use of candles, particularly amongst the ladies, is at bath time.  A few tea-lights or scented candles around the edge of the bath tub, a large glass of wine and some music may sound like heaven to you. But be aware, as mentioned above, tea-lights in particular can get very hot and many modern bath tubs are made from plastic. It would be a shame to mark you nice bath. The other danger, even in a bathroom, is combustible materials in the form of bath mats, dressing gowns or towels on the floor. It only takes knocked over candle falling on top of a dressing gown to quickly start a fire.

So, What to Do?

Does this mean you should never use candles? In an ideal world, yes, as they are by their very nature (a naked flame) potentially dangerous. There are these days many alternatives that use low voltage batteries and are far less of a fire hazard. If however, only the flicker of a real flame will do, then be sensible and take precautions.

  • If using candles make sure they are in an appropriate container designed for the purpose. Something that insulates and protects from the heat produced by the metal tea-light container for instance.

  • Be very careful where you place the candle; make sure there are no ignitable materials nearby, particularly above the flame.

  • Ensure the location is somewhere the candle cannot be knocked over, either by people or pets and particularly out of reach of children.

  • Be aware that as the candle burns down the ‘balance’ of the decoration may change and become less stable so, again, make sure it is in a good location and on a firm and fire-proof base,

  • Finally, never ever, leave candles unattended. When you go to bed or if you are ‘popping out for a short time’ ensure candles are properly extinguished.

For information regarding fire safety see the BlueWatch and Safety Management (UK) websites.

Have you got a plan?

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk


Most people do not worry about fire. The risk of being involved in one and the potentially fatal consequences is not something that weighs on most people’s minds. Unless you work in fire safety, go to sea or have experienced a fire, it is unlikely that it will be of much concern to you.

As injury and death due to fire in this country is falling you may feel that there is no compelling need to worry. But yet, it is not just injury and death we should worry about, it is the loss of personal and impossible to replace possessions that causes distress. The family heirlooms, passed down by the generations, the special family photograph framed on the wall are items that the best insurance policy cannot replace.

It makes sense to have smoke, heat and carbon monoxide detectors in place. Do you have a fire extinguisher or fire blanket in the kitchen? Make a plan, one that all the family should be aware of. In the event of a fire, what should your family do? Where should they go, what is the best route out of the house from each bedroom? How should they raise the alarm?

Once you have a plan, get the family together and go through the details. Worried you may appear a bit of an old worrier? So what! It’s your family and you are concerned about them. And, remind them of the plan regularly….

The sad fact is that even though injury and death due to fire is falling in this country, every year people do still die, make sure your family is not a part of that statistic.

Student rental market showing positive signs

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk

In July 2014 the accommodation for students website issued a press release confirming that student letting was buoyant with over 70% of properties already let ahead of the new academic year starting in September. 61% of landlords expect to fill the remaining vacancies ahead of September.

This success is attributed to the improving quality for many properties with good safety measures in place such as [smoke[( and heat detectors as well as carbon monoxide alarms, often linked to building wide systems. 

We should not be complacent as there are still a significant number of properties that fall below standard. Students can be vulnerable as it is often their first home away from mum and dad and, it is acknowledged, they do enjoy the occasional drink. Returning after a night on the town, feeling hungry, popping something under the grill then falling asleep is not unusual. Make sure that you and yours rent a safe property. Ideally one that has been checked.

The press release stated that 69% of respondents felt that students were better to let to as they make good tenants (84%), with better rental yields (77%) and an annual repeat market for new students (54%). 

Some of the issues respondents faced were the cost of maintaining an HMO (house in multiple occupation) with over half (57.4%) reporting this as a an issue for them. High turnover was highlighted by 46.3% and damage to property by 41.2%. Despite this some 92% plan to carry on letting to students.

Over half of landlords (60%) reported that rents had been increased, although the majority (94.1%) said the increases were relatively small at between 1-10% across their portfolios.

Chimney Fires – precautions

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Fire talk

The summer will end soon. As the evenings get cooler it is tempting to start a ‘real’ fire if you have an open fireplace or perhaps a wood-burning stove. Nothing wrong with that, of course, a warm flickering fire is just the thing to banish the chill.

Certain precautions should be taken, especially as it is likely this may be the first fire for several months. In the United Kingdom there are around 30,000 chimney fires each year and, of these, around 9,000 cause serious damage.

As the solid fuel burns and the smoke rises up the chimney it cools leaving a tar like deposit lining the stack. Over time this deposit becomes thicker and can lead to a chimney fire if a source of ignition, such as a hot ember, touches it.


  • Not getting the chimney swept regularly, preferably every year
  • Using damp wood, causes more smoke and therefore deposits
  • Damage to the chimney lining, restricting airflow and build-up of deposits
  • Burning paper or cardboard as it is more likely to lead to hot embers rising up the chimney

It may not be fire that damages your property, it may be the smoke from the fire. Anyone who has ever experienced a fire in a property will tell you that the smoke gets into everything and can be difficult to remove. As happened at a chimney fire in Cowfold recently.

It is better to prevent a fire happening in the first place, but it is also sensible to be prepared in case the worst happens by installing smoke alarms and carbon monoxide alarms.

Yosemite Beta

Written by Cool Angus on . Posted in Blog, Software


I have been using the Mac OS X Yosemite beta for around a month now and downloaded and installed the second beta yesterday.

Nothing much to report, it is flatter and in my opinion a bit better and more modern looking (looks similar to iOS 7 on the iPhone), but can’t say I’ve noticed much in the way of improvements otherwise, but then I was already very satisfied with Mac’s OS X.

Not had any issues to speak of, it has been remarkably stable. One or two applications, such as Clarify 2, have issues. in Clarify’s case the keyboard shortcuts don’t work. But of course these should all be sorted by the time it is officially released.

Other than that everything just works, so it bodes well for the eventual release, probably in September.