What happened was that one of the candles on my altar suddenly flared up and started to burn much more fiercely than it should have. Wax melted and dripped down the candle stick and flowed out onto my altar cloth. A moment later, a piece of burning wick fell from the top of the candle and landed in the puddle of wax, setting my altar cloth alight.
It was good that I spotted it as soon as it happened, because I was able to put out the burning altar cloth with just my candle snuffer. I then put out the huge flame that was still rising high from my rapidly melting candle. If that hadn't been sufficient, I did have a bottle of water available and a fire blanket.
Sadly, my altar cloth has a hole in it now, but the damage could have been a lot worse.
Safety is vital if you are using candles. I always mention it in my candle workshops and cover it in my book on candle magic. Here is a list of safety tips adapted from advice offered by the UK Fire Service:
- Always put candles on a heat resistant surface.
- Put them in a proper holder and make sure they are held firmly upright
- Don’t put candles near curtains or other fabrics
- Keep them out of draughts.
- Don’t put them under shelves. There should be at least one metre between a candle and any surface above it.
- Keep clothes and hair away.
- Keep candles out of reach of children and pets.
- Ideally leave at least 10cm between two burning candles.
- Scented candles turn liquid to release their fragrance, so put them in a glass or metal holder if they aren’t already in a container.
- Extinguish candles before moving them.
- Don’t leave them burning. Extinguish candles before you leave a room.
- Never go to sleep with a candle still burning. Never leave a burning candle in a child’s bedroom.
- Use a snuffer or a spoon to put them out. It’s safer than blowing them, which can send sparks and hot wax flying.
- Double-check they’re out.
The photo shows what's left of my overly-drippy candle.