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Student candles cause most campus fires

Candles used by university students are a major cause of campus fires, according to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). Dorm and apartment fires have killed 109 people since 2000 - more than 18 people each year.

"The 2006-2007 academic year was the most fatal academic year on record, with 20 campus-related fire deaths," according to Campus Firewatch a Massachusetts organization that monitors and tracks fires and fire prevention legislation. Cyalume Technologies has created SnapLight emergency lights to give people safe light during power outages. SnapLights safely mix two chemicals in a plastic casing to create instant light. There's no flame, spark, battery, or bulb just safe light for emergencies or evacuations.

"There's no reason in the world for people to use candles for light during a power outage. The National Candle Association even discourages people from using candles under those circumstances. Candles cause fatal fires - and flashlights aren't dependable because very often the batteries fail," said Deputy Fire Chief Michael Mercandante.

According to the latest available statistics, there were 55,410 dorm, fraternity and sorority fires between 1980 and 2002 - more than 2,500 fires each year. Those blazes injured nearly 2,200 people and caused more than $580 million in property damage, according to the NFPA. Most experts agree the exact number of college and university fires is difficult to track and is underreported.

According to the U.S. Department of Education, 17 million students are enrolled in 4,100 colleges and universities across the country. Approximately two-thirds of the students live in off-campus housing, where the risk of fire is most severe. Colleges and universities regulate and pay close attention to fire safety in residence halls. However investigations have found little administration oversight in off-campus housing; they also discovered missing or disabled smoke alarms, and very often, no sprinkler systems.

An NFPA report concluded: "While the potential for significant loss of life exists in the campus environment, loss of life is greater in (off campus) residential facilities. The fire problem involving students living in off-campus housing is serious. Fire officials are very concerned with the increase in candle fires and fire deaths in the past decade."

"Students need to have their own safety strategies and one of the most important back to school tools is safe light when the power goes out," said Mercandante.

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