Try Not To Light Yourself On Fire Once You Get To College

According to Consumer Reports’ Blog, the number of fires in campus housing has risen dramatically over the past few years—from 1,800 fires in 1998 to 3,000 fires in 2005.

What gives?

Well, apparently you college kids are not good with cooking equipment. The more dangerous fires, however, took place in bedrooms. Consumer Reports has some dorm safety tips you should review.

Consumerists asks you to avoid messing with the smoke detector and remember to extinguish candles and other flames before going to sleep! Dead kids don’t read blogs.

Back to school: Is your dorm fire-safe? [Consumer Reports]


Edit Your Comment

  1. beyond says:

    Do dorms have bedrooms? All our cooking was done on a hotplate. Never saw a dorm that wasn’t just one room with the roommates on either side.

  2. Kezzerxir says:

    This is more then likely due to the trendiness of candles and such. Blame Target and women.

  3. TechnoDestructo says:

    In all the dorms I lived in in the military, if your room was inspected they’d confiscate or fail you for any candles that didn’t have the wicks snipped off.

    I’d be fucking pissed if some crystal-loving college hippie’s incense burner incinerated my dormitory.

  4. Jmarsh04 says:

    When I was in college, I used to coat my left hand in rubber cement and light it on fire. After several successful exhibitions, I set my whole arm on fire when I failed to realize I was wearing a sweatshirt with extra-long sleeves. Damn fire just would not go out.

    I don’t think there’s a point to my story.

  5. TheJopker says:

    At my college any and all candles, hotplates, George Foremans, etc. are banned in the dorms. It seemed like you could get in more trouble for those items than alcohol.

  6. vonskippy says:

    It’s not exactly rocket science to safely use candles. I blame public education and de-evolution (dumb parents having even dumber kids). On the bright side, hopefully it removes the super dumb ones from the gene pool before they have a chance to breed.

  7. lostsynapse says:

    Don’t forget the cheap Chinese made halogen light lamps they keep pushing at Wal-mart.

  8. Arlahna says:

    I burned candles while in the dorms when I was in college despite the rules saying not to. For the most part I didn’t have any issues, except one. I still shake my head at my idiocy on this one. I burned a candle too close to my monitor. I started smelling burned plastic at some point, but thought (for some truly unknown reason) that it was coming from upstairs. I must have forgotten about the candle somehow, despite the fact that I was sitting right next to it.

    Anyway, long story short, I got a lovely black melted hole in the side of my monitor. It still worked fine for a few months before the yellow on the screen decided to run out, but my friends never let me live that down. At least I can laugh about that now. Now, I sell PartyLite as a second job. I’m still addicted to candles.

  9. MudMt says:

    Hey, we all know that food isn’t the only thing you can cook, and I happen to know that the ingredients for cooking this other “stuff” is EXTREMELY flammable.

    Some bastard thought it would be great to go out to our ran-down old concession trailer and cook up some sort of dope. Problem is, the idiot spilled a pan of the stuff and turned the entire stupid trailer into a nice fireball.

  10. ChrisC1234 says:

    Candles were illegal at my school, but that didn’t prevent someone from starting a fire by knocking one over. It was one of those 3 AM fire alarms (that were usually caused by drunks coming in late and pulling the alarm). When everyone got outside, I always had a habit of looking at the windows for smoke or fire, usually unsuccessfully. This time, however, there was smoke billowing out of a 6th floor window. I was so pissed because I had a big test that day and NEEDED a good night’s sleep.

    The Fire Department came and extinguished the fire. It was really limited to one or two rooms, with minimal structural damage. Everyone’s stuff on the 6th floor did have a decent amount of smoke damage though. Everyone but the 6th floor got to go back to their rooms after about an hour or so, except the 6th floor. I don’t know what time the 6th floor was allowed to return.

    Interestingly enough, the 6th floor was also the floor that had a flood. Someone clogged up a toilet and the bathroom drains with paper towels, and water poured out of the bathroom into the hallway and into some rooms. Water cascaded down the stairwells, and down the elevator doors on the 5th, 4th and 3rd floors.

  11. Televiper says:

    I think this has a lot more to do with the trendiness of candles and the fact that a jam packed dorm room probably has no place for them. I grew up building campfires, and burning candles. I don’t think the average modern day college student really appreciates the fact that a candle is an open flame and molten wax is a fuel. There’s also got to be some kind of statement behind the fact that 18+ college students are generally ignorant about how to prepare food. Am I wrong in thinking that being able to feed yourself is a part of the ABCs of life?

  12. HomoLaw says:

    They’ll let ANYONE into college these days…

  13. benchman says:

    Burnt popcorn from too much microwaving caused many fire alarms to go off during my freshman year. No fire, just smoke.

  14. pine22 says:

    god, burnt popcorn would set off our alarms all the time, this one time, a girl on my floor took a really steamy shower, and that triggered the fire alarm. i think they are waaaay too sensitive. yea but, candles, hotplates, george foremans, etc. are banned from my dorms cause of the fire risk

  15. homerjay says:

    @MudMt: Hmmm… was that person you?? :)

  16. SpaceCat85 says:

    When you go dormroom shopping, remember: no halogens!

    My college eventually had to ban those oh-so-trendy snaking halogen floorlamps with the multicolored plastic “heads” (like this one) because the bulbs will get so hot that they melt the shades! Before that, it seemed like almost everyone on campus had one of those.

    I had an attractive brushed steel table lamp (bought on sale) + a couple of compact fluorescent bulbs that got approx. 2 years of steady use each and barely put off heat.

  17. ndavies says:

    A. Laptop batteries
    B. Some dorms have communal or individual kitchens where the stoves are getting old.
    C. Apparently it was popular at my school to pour liquor onto a table and light it on fire. In common areas.

  18. Televiper says:

    @SpaceCat85: I bought one of those years and years ago. Naturally machined in Quebec, takes those little chandelier bulbs, and has ceramic shades. It also cost 10x as much. It really pains me to see the cheap-ass imitations of it everywhere. It really spoiled having something that was originally very unique and attention getting. Guess, I’ll just have to wait another 10 years.

  19. Jigen says:

    As a recent college graduate, I can safely say kids do not follow safety guidelines. Candles, hotplates, etc were all banned. We all still had them though. Add to that kids getting drunk, and just doing stupid shit to entertain ourselves, and you get pretty dangerous situations. Plus the fact its not their house, so they care even less. They will just break or set shit on fire for shits and giggles.

  20. Televiper says:


    We’re talking about a 70% increase. A) barely applies, B) is just unrealistic, and C) even a anti-social cynic like me doesn’t believe there’s that many total assholes in college.

  21. FishingCrue says:

    When I was in college (recently) someone (in actuality, not just ‘someone’ but a true asshole – my disdain for him predates his attempt to torch the freshmen in their sleep) lit his dorm room on fire when he lit a candle and then LEFT FOR THE WEEKEND. Fire Dept broke down the door and put out the fire. He had to pay for the smoke damage / cleaning and was kicked out of University Housing.

    Focus: If you want to skirt the rules and burn candles in your dorm, buy jar candles.

  22. Havok154 says:

    I still find it amazing but those kids going to higher education to be smarter then everyone else, will usually do some of the stupidest stuff I’ve seen. Stuff like storing clothes on top of a hot-plate that’s turned off or using candles in the extremely small and cramped spaces that a dorm provides even though there’s not really enough space between it and everything around it.

    Those are just some fire causing stupid things. Lets not even start on the other stuff.

  23. EtherealStrife says:

    These are some good alternatives, if you MUST have the candle-look going. I’m paranoid about fire with all the crap I have around the house (and the structure’s age), so I never have open flames. And since I just nuke every meal, no worries about leaving the stove on. :)

  24. hoo_foot says:

    When I was in college, the fire alarms went off at least once a semester due to someone burning popcorn in the microwave. The students aren’t the only ones guilty of this–we’ve had academic buildings shut down due to faculty and staff burning popcorn on their lunch break.

  25. FLConsumer says:

    How f’ing dumb are college kids now? Jeesh. I’ve been burning candles regularly since I was ~14 years old. Some 15 years later, I’ve never had a problem with them.

    I’ve always been paranoid about them, won’t put them where they’ll be knocked over, kept them away from drafts, and wouldn’t leave them going if I wasn’t going to be in the same room. Even now, I tend to keep them on fireproof surfaces just in case something goes wrong.

    Lately, I’ve been using more “fake” candles along with my real ones. has some very cool and very realistic electric plug-in candles which have fooled everyone (including my candle aficionado/candle snob friends). I have quite a collection of these sitting on plant shelves & bookshelves where using regular candles isn’t convenient. The battery-operate ones aren’t quite as realistic. It’s also rather neat to push a button on a remote or wall-mounted keypad and have all of the candles “light” themselves automatically. Also worth the peace of mind knowing that I didn’t leave the house and leave a candle burning.

  26. notebook says:

    Candles are cheaper then Electricity.
    That’s all I can say.

  27. jeffeb3 says:

    @notebook: not if the electricity is free, which it is at most colleges.

    I think the real problem isn’t candles though, it’s the toaster/hotplate/electric grill that’s gotten cheaper and more available. I always just ate at the caf, or enjoyed dried foods. I don’t think I would have ever even used the electric appliance if it was available in my room.

  28. FLConsumer says:

    @notebook: Not really. Fake 4″x8″ candle costs $30, and draws 1-2 watts when running, wattage varies because of the flickering.
    0.002kW * 24hrs * 365days = 17.52kWh.

    Electric here is $0.1032/kWh, so:
    17.52kWh * $0.1032 = $1.80/year for electricity
    Final cost for the first year: $31.80.

    For comparison, a 3″x6″ pillar from Illuminations sells for $18 and lasts for “up to 120 hrs”. So, doing the math:
    365 days * 24 hrs = 8760 hrs.
    8760 hrs / 120 = 73 candles, or (73*$18)= $1,314.

    Granted, virtually no one has candles going 24/7, but even if you burn 2 pillars/year, the electric ones are cheaper. I’ll usually have a single scented candle going for ambience. As a side benefit, fewer wax candles = less soot all over everything. All of that burned wax has to go somewhere, and it does.

  29. Televiper says:

    Another good option is those tiny little tea light candles. They’re dirt cheap, only burn for about an hour or 2, and you usually place them in a heavy coloured glass container. If you’re burning candles just to get the softer flickering ambient light they provide, tea lights are a good way to go.

  30. huadpe says:

    I’d like to know how many more students were living in dorms in the period of the change. The number of 18-22 year olds has been rising for some time, so if there are more kids in dorms, the 80% increase might not be as big. That said, crowded dorms are also a problem. Less space + more furniture/decorations = more chances for fires.

  31. tamushrek says:

    Texas A&M allows no candles of any sort, even if you have no wick in it! It’s cool though because when 600+ people are moving out of a dorm for a fire drill is no fun and it really wont be fun if i lose my tv, xbox360, and computer to someone and their candle.

  32. Chicago7 says:


  33. slowinthefastlane says:

    I would imagine it would also have to do with the amount of gear students are bringing to college. In the “olden” days, most students brought maybe a desk lamp, electric fan, and a few personal electric items (hair dryer, curling iron, etc.). Nowadays, in addition to the things mentioned above, students are bringing computers, TVs, high-powered stereo systems, video game systems, 1000 watt halogen lamps, microwaves, iPods, cell phones, and god knows what else you can plug in. All of this can’t be good for substandard electrical systems built into dorms and student rental housing – most of which is at least 40 years old.

    It was a problem 10 years ago when I was in college (I had a computer, my roommate had a 19″ TV and the guy next door had a microwave – if they were all on at once, the breaker would blow). I can’t imagine what it’s like now.

  34. TangDrinker says:

    My next door neighbors in the dorm set of the fire alarm every other week – because they used too much air freshener (the aerosol can type). I guess the particulates from the spray were enough to trigger the alarm. That was in the early 1990s, before glade plug- ins. I think they were trying to hide the smell of either burnt popcorn or the cow/barn smell so prevalent at UCONN. ahh. good times.

  35. CoffeeAddict says:

    I think the only reason we have more fires now is that more kids go to college. Although all for being careful with flames accidents happen and they likely will with the way the over crowd kids into dorms now. so i think the finger of blame should be pointed at the government who doesn’t fund it’s secondary level education system well enough.

  36. boingystar says:

    I’d be shocked if a dorm didn’t have smoke alarms (to be triggered by drunken students or, ironically, spraying the fire extinguisher in the hall), and the newer ones even have sprinkler systems and such. Most of the deadly college fires I’ve heard about were actually in off-campus housing, where there is no one to confiscated the candles, and where parties are more frequently held. Too many people in a confined space, alcohol-impaired judgement, and lack of supervision all add up to some unfortunate situations.

  37. dreamingmage says:

    I’ve burned candles and oil/parafin lamps for 30+ years, and never burned anything. (though I once almost asphyxiated myself… but that was with a woodstove going in a tightly-closed school bus)

    I lived for 7 years in a homebuilt micro-motorhome (a converted van) lighting this way and cooking on a 1940’s era propane table-top stove. Never set fire to anything.

    It only takes a tiny bit of care to avoid fires.

    and to boingstar: Since when is the government responsible for colleges? I pay taxes, but I can’t afford college for my kids. If the government is going to spend my tax money to save these rich brats from themselves, then I want the doors thrown open to my children as well.


  38. RandomHookup says:

    The deaths that happened this last year in Boston were of the off-campus-passed-out-drunk-forgot-about-the-fire variety. One involved leaving a charcoal grill lit on the back porch. 3 died in two separate incidents a few months apart.

    Of course, Boston area students have a recent history of doing themselves in with stupid behavior, including being run down while crossing a high speed road at night a short distance from a protected crosswalk, being run over by a train on highly traveled tracks and walking across a partial frozen Charles River.

  39. superqueen23 says:

    Tulane didn’t allow microwaves except when you rented the ones that are attached to a mini-fridge from a specific company. Too bad one of those in my building had some wiring issues and exploded in flames part way into the year. My roommate and I were glad we had decided not to get one when we saw the smoke billowing out of that room. Good thing they were also good about making sure we knew where to find the fire extinguishers.

  40. RetroChristal says:

    During my freshman year of college I lived in the one tower that didn’t have constant false fire alarms. One night some guy thought it would be a great idea to light trash on fire and throw it down the trash chute.

    Thank god they caught him early on.

  41. ekthesy says:

    We had a bunch of fires at my college…attended from 1995 to 1999. The worst was over Thanksgiving break; a girl two floors below mine left one of those halogen torchiere lamps on before she went HOME FOR FOUR DAYS.

    A plastic bottle of some hair product fell into it over the weekend (these were the days before the manufacturers put guards over the bulb) and it burned like all-get-out because the substance inside the bottle was inflammable. Her room was destroyed, and it was only the fact that the dorm was constructed out of poured cement (literally, the walls and ceilings were cementy grey) and the fire was confined to her room.

    Strange to say it, but I never had a hotplate. Three years out of four years in the dorms, there were electric stoves in or near my rooms. Some poster upthread noted that these appliances are usually past their prime, and I can heartily attest to this.