Posted October 28th, 2020 by Fire & Life Safety America

Stingy Jack and the Pumpkin

Are pumpkins a fruit or a vegetable? If you guessed fruit (which I did not), it is because fruits are a seed-bearing structure and pumpkins contain what I best describe as yucky stuff along with plenty of seeds so there you have it…a pumpkin is a fruit (though I will never eat it as a fruit…just sayin’).   

The tradition of carving out a Pumpkin (aka fruit) dates back to a method used by the Celts to ward off evil spirits and light the way for good spirits to visit on that one night known as Halloween. They would then hollow out turnips (later to become pumpkins by the time the custom reached America), and then carve faces in them and place a candle inside.

Other folklore include stories of a man in Ireland called Stingy Jack who caught the attention of the devil because he admired his evil deeds. As the story goes, the devil made a deal with Jack to carry a single ember of coal inside a carved out turnip to light his way while he wandered the earth. Hence, the name Jack of the Lantern.

As families find creative ways this year to celebrate Halloween in response to COVID-19, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) urges everyone to keep fire safety in mind, particularly when decorating with candles and electrical lighting.

Because typical Halloween activities like trick-or-treating may be curtailed or even canceled in some communities, we suspect an even bigger focus on Halloween decorating in and around homes this year,” said Lorraine Carli, NFPA’s vice president of Outreach and Advocacy. “We urge everyone to carefully consider fire safety to ensure that celebrations remain festively spooky, not hazardous.”

According to the NFPA, candles are among the leading causes of U.S. home fires. NFPA’s latest U.S. Home Candle Fires report shows that an annual average of 7,610  home fires are started by candles, resulting in 81 deaths, 677 injuries and $278 million in direct property damage. In addition, an average of 770 home fires started when decorations ignited. These fires caused an average of two civilian deaths, 20 civilian injuries, and $11.1 million in direct property damage per year.

 Helpful Reminders from the NFPA for a Safe Halloween

  • Use a battery-operated candle or glow stick in jack-o-lanterns.
  • Dried flowers, cornstalks, and crepe paper catch fire easily. Keep all decorations away from open flames and other heat sources like light bulbs and heaters.
  • When using electrical lighting to decorate your home, make sure it is used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions. Some lights are only for indoor or outdoor use, but not both.
  • Use clips, not nails, to hang lights so the cords do not become damaged.
  • Remember to keep exits clear of decorations so nothing blocks escape routes. Make sure all smoke alarms are working.

For families still planning to attend Halloween parties or go trick-or-treating:

  • When choosing costumes, stay away from long trailing fabric that could come in contact with open flames or other heat sources.
  • Teach children to stay away from open flames, including jack-o-lanterns with candles in them.
  • Provide children with flashlights to carry for lighting or glow sticks as part of their costumes.

For additional information, visit the NFPA Halloween safety page for more resources of how to stay safe.