Candles are an easy way to set a mood. Left unattended, they're also one of the quickest ways to start a fire. However, there are ways to add ambiance without snuffing out safety.
"Every time I go to market, I see more candles and more clever ways of displaying them," said Tamara Dillard, owner of Sophie's, a gift boutique on North Market Street. "I'm also seeing more battery-operated candles."
Many customers prefer flameless, battery-operated candles for either safety reasons or because they don't want to burn candles in antique vases or containers, she said.
Dillard said her candle sales increase from year to year, with a spike around the holidays. That sales trend holds true nationally as well.
The National Candle Association estimates that candles are used in seven out of 10 U.S. households, with annual sales averaging $2 billion. Nearly 35 percent of sales in the United States take place in the fourth quarter, when homeowners are lighting Halloween jack-o'-lanterns, setting the Thanksgiving table, decorating for Christmas or observing Hanukkah and Kwanzaa.
Safety experts say homeowners must be diligent when lighted candles are in use. The U.S. Fire Administration suggests placing candles in sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders and setting them where they cannot be easily knocked down.
According to 2008 statistics from the U.S. Fire Administration's National Fire Data Center, candles caused an estimated 15,600 fires in residential structures, 150 deaths, 1,270 injuries and $539 million in direct property damage. December has the highest occurrence of candle-ignited residential fires.
To better mimic a real candle, some battery-operated candles have flame-shaped LED bulbs with a soft flicker effect, according to batteryoperatedcandles.net. LED bulbs provide more than 72 hours of continuous use.
Dillard said she carries pillar-style battery-operated candles that sell from $19 to $24.