Candles may smell and look nice for the holidays, but they're also extremely dangerous, even deadly, if not handled correctly.

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According to the latest numbers from the National Fire Protection Association, U.S. fire departments responded to more than 9,000 home structure fires caused by candles from 2009 to 2013. And December was the hottest month for these fires.

Plainsboro has been no stranger to the risks. Major fires have destroyed a handful of homes in the town over the past few years.

"We've actually had fires in which we're putting the fire out in one part of the house, and there are actually candles burning in another part of the house," said Tom Healey, captain of the Plainsboro Fire Company.

His department launched a candle safety campaign in early December, sharing some tips for candle lovers:

  • Keep candles at least one foot away from anything that can burn;
  • Use sturdy candle holders on a sturdy, uncluttered surface;
  • Light candles away from children, hair and loose clothing; and
  • Don't burn a candle all the way down; put it out before it gets too close to the container.

Healey said the real danger presents itself when lit candles are left unattended. He advises residents to blow out their lit candles when leaving the house or even leaving the room.

A quick trip to the laundry room or a neighbor's house, he said, can end up ruining the holidays.

The national numbers found that candle fires caused 86 deaths, 827 injuries and more than $370 million in property damage from 2009 to 2013.

Falling asleep was a factor in 11 percent of the cases, and contributed to 30 percent of the fatalities.

Dino Flammia is a field reporter for New Jersey 101.5  news. Contact him at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.