My house was burnt down — by a dinner party candle: FLIC EVERETT’s terrifying story might make you think twice about buying them amid fears of blackouts
- Sales of candles have risen 12 per cent in a year at John Lewis as people stock up
- Pubs such as The Masons Arms in Cornwall, are using candles to light the bar
- Flic Everett explains how she won’t touch them after one burnt down her house
This winter Britain could be plunged into darkness if power cuts caused by electricity shortages snap off the lights.
Only last week ministers ‘war-gamed’ emergency plans to cope with possible week-long blackouts.
Many households are stocking up on candles — sales have risen 12 per cent in a year at John Lewis — but I’ll be relying on a battery-powered torch.
For me, candles are not a charming throwback to Victorian times, nor a chance to scent my home with wafts of pomegranate. They are dangerous harbingers of destruction, and I fear that if we turn to naked flames to light our homes in this difficult year, even for a few hours, we’re massively increasing the risk of devastating fires.
Flic Everett’s dinner party went south when a candle wasn’t properly blown out. Her and her then-husband were trapped on the roof whilst a blaze engulfed their home
Perhaps this sounds wildly melodramatic. After all, millions of Brits enjoy the relaxing scent of a candle, whether it’s from Asprey or Aldi; and plenty more use candles to light the dinner table, celebrate occasions such as Christmas or give the bedroom a romantic glow.
Some pubs, such as The Masons Arms in Camelford, Cornwall, are even using candles to light the bar and save money. The customers love it, apparently.
But I know from bitter experience a candle fire can happen to anyone.
Almost 13 years ago — November 14, 2009, to be exact, when I was 39 — my house caught fire and I and my then-husband were rescued from the upstairs bedroom by firefighters. If they hadn’t arrived within five minutes of the call, we may not have made it out at all.
The fire was started by a simple dinner candle, which I’d intended to add a pleasantly soft light to a get-together.
Friends were coming for dinner that night, to our terrace townhouse in Manchester. Just before they arrived I decided the kitchen looked too bare, and my husband nipped to the supermarket for candles.
We stuck two in the decorative sconce on the wall. It had been there since we bought the house, and we’d seldom used it, but it was winter and the small flames cast a cosy glow.
Much later, after they’d left, I fell asleep on the living room sofa and my husband went to bed, having blown out the stubs. One, however, must have glowed back to life. As it burned away, the remaining wax toppled from the holder and fell onto a pile of clean laundry on the washing machine. It smouldered for a while, then bloomed into flames.
The previous day, we’d removed the battery from our smoke alarm after it had started bleeping relentlessly, so it was the cats’ panicked howling that woke my husband.
He stumbled downstairs to find black plumes of oily smoke pouring through the cracks around the door to kitchen. Immediately, he ran to wake me and we rushed to the front door only to have to dash upstairs to retrieve the door keys.
It was at that point things took a turn for the worse.
As we reached the top of the stairs, the lights fused and, feeling panic take hold, we navigated our way to the bedroom through the choking smoke. From there we managed to call the fire brigade. While we waited, acrid smoke continued billowing up the stairs. If was full of toxic particles from the burning tumble dryer and pots of room paint that had been stacked by the door.
I flung up the sash window, and we climbed onto the freezing roof. Never have I been so grateful to hear the sound of sirens.
Flic said that although she and her husband, and their cats were unharmed, she suffers with the mental pain still and will not buy candles
A team of enormous, reassuring firemen carried us down their ladder, then kicked the front door in and hosed the ground floor, while we were taken to hospital for checks.
Thankfully, smoke damage hadn’t affected our lungs, and physically we were fine. The psychological effects lasted far longer. All these years later, I still recoil when I smell a bonfire. I will never enjoy a campfire, or anything that involves that reek of burning.
Once, a few years ago, I was driving and a drift of smoke enveloped the road from a distant fire. I had to pull over and take deep breaths to quell the panic before I could continue on my way.
I remember vividly the film of black, greasy soot all over the walls and furniture; the huge skip outside our house filled with our books, clothes and pictures.
Of course, we were enormously lucky — that night, my son was staying with his grandparents, and our lodger was at her partner’s house. The local fire brigade was fully staffed and had a station nearby.
The cats survived, miraculously, and we managed to clean and redecorate the house, thanks to kind friends who let us stay at their flat while we worked on salvaging what we could.
But the house never felt quite the same. I was haunted by the smoky, greasy smell of the fire, and chilled by what could have happened. I was relieved when we sold up a few years later and moved away.
Ever since, I have refused to light candles at home. I don’t buy them as gifts and I use diffusers to scent rooms. For dinner parties, we use several tall LED ‘candles’ to cast a pretty glow instead.
Recently I was given a box of beautiful, scented candles in decorative tins. They smelled wonderful, and I thought if I placed one on the kitchen table, I could keep an eye on it and enjoy the scent.
I was chopping onions 20 minutes later when my (now) husband Andy came in, and unwrapped a parcel that had just arrived.
Absorbed by the new bit of plumbing kit he’d just unpacked, he chucked the brown paper on the table and wandered off. Gradually, I realised I could smell burning, but nothing was amiss on the stove. I whipped round to see the paper blazing merrily in the middle of the table, about to set light to a stack of books.
I dived across the room, threw the paper in the sink, wrenched the tap on, span back and beat out the embers using the spatula I’d been holding, in one panicked movement.
Apart from a burn mark in the wooden table, there was no harm done — other than to my hope that I might occasionally use candles again.
This winter, if blackouts do happen, millions will light candles, just as we did back in the 1970s.
But the difference is, there are now all kinds of LED lights available, so we don’t have to risk a forgotten flame causing untold destruction — even death.
Rather than risk it, my advice is to invest in battery-powered lighting. I know it may not be as pretty or cosy — but take it from me, it’s infinitely less likely to cause a house fire, the effects of which still resonate all these years later.
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