8 Nights of (Safe) Light

Ellen Appelbaum December 1, 2020

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We know, it’s all about the light.

Here are some tips to make sure it stays joyous.

A Google Nest video went viral last year. We see an empty living room, a table at the window, appropriate debris scattered around from a good evening’s fun.

Children’s voices are heard, somewhere else in the house.

On the table in the empty room are three lit menorahs.

A little spark — maybe dripping oil? — slides down the side of the tablecloth to the floor. Another spark, and another, quicker and quicker.

There’s now a small fire under the table, and it’s growing larger by the moment.

A shrill signal from the smoke detector pierces the air. Dad rushes in, charges into the kitchen, runs back with the fire extinguisher, and – done. An ugly grey cloud hangs where there used to be cups of light.

But the family is safe, and so is their home.

Chanukah is a gift to light up our souls in the winter, but its main expression is fire. Open flame. In our homes. And that means that in the midst of your plans for celebration, you must stop and realize what you’re dealing with.

Basically, it breaks down into two parts:

  • The Menorah
  • The Kitchen


Prepare a Safe Place to Light

The safest is the Israeli setup. That enclosed box at the door keeps flames enclosed and out of harm’s way.

Most of us, though, light open candles or olive oil menorahs.

So remember.

1. Make sure there are no curtains, window shades, plants, magazines, or opened mail anywhere near the menorah.

2. Place all menorahs on a stable, flat surface — preferably on a flat metal pan so that nothing that falls or drips can ignite anything else.

3. Make sure the menorah itself is non-flammable. The arts and crafts menorahs made in school of wood, and nuts, and bolts are not safe to use. Sorry!

4. Each day means more oil-soaked wicks, more areas of open flame. Be aware.

5. More fire also means more heat, and if several people light at the same time, that heat really builds up. So make sure not to light under something flammable like a kitchen cabinet.

6. Place the menorah higher up, so that kids can’t reach it. But in any case, kids should never be alone in a room with a lit menorah. (I remember, as a very small kid, holding the ear of my new stuffed animal over the candles to see what would happen … Guess what happened? Science…)

Stay Focused in the Kitchen

You know that your latke recipe is famous for miles around. What could possibly go wrong? Nothing … unless you consider that cooking fires are the number one cause of home fires and home injuries, according to the NFPA. And the leading cause of kitchen fires is unattended cooking.

So rule one is stay focused.

More kitchen guidelines:

1. Create a “kid-free zone” around the stove and other areas where hot foods or liquids are transported. Three feet is the ideal distance.

2. Don’t overfill the frying pan, because the oil can spill over the sides as it bubbles.

3. Use the back burners to keep kids and flames separate.

4. Turn pan and pot handles toward the inside of the stove to keep them from getting knocked over.

5. Be aware of your clothes — Make sure your sleeves are not loose or hanging, and keep your hair pulled back when cooking over an open flame.

6. Make sure the oil has cooled completely before you dispose of it.

If a Cooking Fire Starts

If a cooking fire does start while you’re frying, don’t put it out with water, and don’t panic. Turn off the burner and use a pot lid to extinguish the fire by depriving it of oxygen.

You can also dump baking soda on the fire.

Smoke Detectors, Fire Extinguishers

People have a love-hate relationship with their smoke detector. When it goes off while you’re cooking, it’s a public announcement that — you messed up.

But working smoke detectors save lives. According to NFPA, a working smoke alarm cuts the risk of death in a home fire in half: 5.7 per 1000, compared to 12.3 per 1000 without a working alarm. Big difference.

A home fire extinguisher is good to have, too. It’s easy to use and inexpensive. You’re looking for a Class B fire extinguisher, which refers to the type of fire it can battle: oil, gasoline, kerosene, or paint.

You Matter

It should never come to this, but if you have any doubt about fighting the fire, get out. Close the door behind you and call 9-1-1 – once you are safely outside.

Here’s to a Chanukah you will look back on with love.