COVINGTON - Newton County fire officials want to raise awareness of the dangers novelty lighters pose to young children, and they are joining with other fire agencies from across the state in an effort to prohibit their sale.
"Anytime we introduce something that has a flame attached or sparks ... and children are attracted to it, then it immediately becomes a hazard," said Newton County Fire Chief Mike Satterfield. "An open flame, a lighter or anything else like that is a very serious tool, and if not used properly, can create a tremendous amount of damage."
Novelty lighters come in various shapes and sizes and are disguised as various objects, such as animals, cell phones, balls, vehicles and key rings. Authorities said they can be easily found at most convenience stores, as well as flea markets.
"They look like toys and kids think they're toys, and they appeal to them," said Lt. Cydnie Taylor, fire safety specialist for the Newton County Fire Service. "(A child's parent) can have these in the house and the parent (can) be taking a nap and the kid thinks it's a toy, plays with it, finds out that it lights and then the next thing you know, the bed is on fire. That's the biggest concern we have is that they're made to look like toys and children play with toys."
Taylor said another problem fire officials have with novelty lighters is that many of them do not have a child safety lock.
According to a study by The Burn Institute, more than 50 percent of all fires started by children in 2005 were ignited by lighters.
Although there are currently no statistics that differentiate between fires caused by novelty lighters and conventional lighters, Taylor said the danger is still there.
"We know that it is already a problem that kids play with matches and lighters, and we do have (statistics) on that," she said. "However, the difference is that this novelty lighter is made to look like a toy and is deceiving to a child and is increasing fire-related injuries, deaths and loss of property."
According to Taylor, 10 European countries recently banned the sale of novelty lighters.
Taylor said the NCFS, along with other fire agencies, is working with Georgia Insurance and Fire Safety Commissioner John Oxendine to draft legislation prohibiting their sale.
In the meantime, fire officials are asking residents not to purchase these lighters and if they already own one, to remove it from their homes.
Joel Griffin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.