A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Keven Moore on Insurance: Tiki torches
are enjoyable but require safety precautions


As I sit on my deck, I’m mesmerized by a tiki torch burning into the summer night … until it occurs to me that these very popular backyard decorations filled with flammable oil are accidents waiting to happen.
 

Tiki torches are customarily made of bamboo or cane and have a wick that sticks out of a metal reservoir filled with flammable oil that is used to create an open flame. These decorations can be traced to the Polynesian culture and have become popular in backyards worldwide.
 

(Photo from WIkimedia Commons)

(Photo from WIkimedia Commons)

Turns out, though, that tiki torches are responsible for a number of residential and commercial fires throughout the United States every year. What’s more, depending on the ignition source and fire load, these fires can quickly spread and grow out of control.
 

Thus, there are several precautions that you should take:
 

Placement
 

It is recommended that for the best perimeter lighting and ambiance, torches should be equally spaced 6 to 8 feet apart and at least 6 feet away from your home or other structures. Do not place them along walking paths where they can be easily knocked over. It’s also important to consider the height of the torch and to remember to not place torches underneath trees, decorations, overhangs or near other flammable materials.
 

You should also consider that wind can bend tree limbs or even the flame itself, so you should maintain ample space on all sides. You may want to tie back or trim tree limbs, and keep the wicks short to keep the flames low. And because children are naturally captivated by flames, be sure to educate them about the dangers and establish a safety zone of 3 or more feet around the torches.
 

Securing the torch
 

Once you decide where to place your tiki torches, make sure each torch is firmly anchored so that it can’t be easily knocked or tipped over. Some of these tiki torches come with stakes that can be hammered into the ground or stands that can be anchored for extra stability.
 

Fuel
 

It is recommended that you only use fuel that is specified for tiki torches and keep supplies stored safely away from lit torches. Never attempt to refuel a lit tiki torch; instead remove the reservoir and use a funnel to pour the fuel directly into the reservoir from the original bottle.
 

Never transfer the fuel into a secondary vessel or container, and clean up spills promptly by using oil dry or kitty litter. Never overfill the reservoir, and in case of a fuel spill while refueling, allow ample time for the fuel to evaporate before lighting the torch.
 

Extinguishing the torch
 

It’s important to remember to never leave a torch unattended and to extinguish each one promptly. Just about every tiki torch comes with a snuffer cap. To extinguish, cautiously place the cap completely over the wick and leave until the flame is entirely out.
 

Once the flame is snuffed out, remove the cap long enough to allow the wick to cool. Once it’s cool, replace the cap until the next use.
 

If someone accidentally knocks over a torch and it causes a fire, do not use water to extinguish it. Otherwise, it will spread the fire as it becomes fluid. Instead, it is suggested that you keep an ABC fire extinguisher (rated to put out three types of fires) nearby and ready to use.
 

Never attempt to move a lit torch, and always have a fire plan in place. You should keep a cell phone handy to call 9-1-1, as fires fueled with combustible liquids can spread rapidly.
 

Depending on your location, it is advised that you should also check with your local city or county ordinances, as many municipalities throughout the country have placed strict rules on tiki torch usage and open flames. Most municipalities have ordinances forbidding any open flame within 10 feet of a multifamily dwelling such as an apartment complex. Some cities have even gone as far as banning fire pits and tiki torches specifically.
 

It’s obvious that during the hot summer dry months when open flame restrictions are in place that this would also include the use of tiki torches, so be aware of your surroundings. As a safety consultant, I have learned that while one can never completely eliminate risk, but by following this advice can greatly improve those odds of not having to call your insurance agent the next morning to report a claim.

Be safe, my friends.
 

Keven Moore is director of Risk Management Services for Roeding Insurance (www.roedinginsurance.com). He has a bachelor’s degree from University of Kentucky, a master’s from Eastern Kentucky University and 25-plus years of experience in the safety and insurance profession. He lives in Lexington with his family and works out of both the Lexington and Northern Kentucky offices. Keven can be reached at kmoore@roeding.com.

 

Click here to read more columns from Keven Moore.


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