Matt Springer has been giving presentations around San Francisco about home earthquake preparedness since 2008 (for more information about the presentation, go to his earthquake preparedness website). This blog is devoted to posts ranging from technical "how-to" articles to more philosophical "should-you" topics. New articles will be posted at most about once a month, so people who subscribe won't be subjected to lots of e-mail.

Friday, December 19, 2014

A burning question: what happens to unattended holiday/memorial candles in an earthquake?

(This article is longer than I had intended it to be... I would suggest that if you don’t want to commit to the whole thing, you read the first section, at least scan through the subsequent section headers for whatever might be relevant to your own situations, and then please be sure to read the last section!)

One of the basic rules of living in an earthquake zone is to avoid having loose objects that would cause great danger if they fell, right?  Do you store unsheathed swords sitting loose on the top shelf, or unattended loose boxes of live rattlesnakes on the coffee table, or armed land mines sitting loose on the kitchen counter?  Certainly not.  Got unattended fire on the table while you are in the other room or away from home?  Of course not!  ...Except that many people do, even near earthquake faults, in the form of holiday or commemorative candles.

One poorly timed earthquake, and those people will have to consider themselves lucky if they just burned down their own home and not the entire city block.

Consider: candles in jack-o’-lanterns, candles in menorahs, memorial candles, etc., can change in an earthquake from fun, beauty, and devotion, to destruction and death; not just by falling themselves and starting fires, but also if some other object falls onto the candles and catches on fire.

Catholic votive candle and Jewish
Yahrzeit candle (M. Springer)
Think I'm overly worried?  San Francisco is no stranger to killer fires caused by earthquakes, as much of the city burned after the 1906 earthquake thanks to "broken gas lines and toppled candles and lamps that fueled raging fires" according to  In fact, fires after earthquakes "are often caused by ruptured gas lines, electrical shortages and fallen candles, among other things," according to Dr. Rachel Davidson of the University of Delaware, who is studying how fires start and spread after earthquakes.  It's not new; according to a UC Berkeley study, after the 1755 Lisbon earthquake, "several fires broke out, mostly started by cooking fires and candles."  The resulting catastrophic fire burned Lisbon for five days.  The Pacific Northwest Seismic Network points out that "Fire has long been recognized as a major hazard following earthquakes.  Before the 20th Century, earthquakes would often upset burning candles and lamps and stoves and fireplaces with dangerous fuels were common.  Today in the US ruptured gas lines and arcing electrical wires are the most common sources of ignition."  But the candles are still there.

The purpose of this article is to get you thinking about things that you may have taken for granted your entire life, but that could cause a destructive fire in the event of an earthquake; and about strategies for avoiding that risk.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Should I stay or should I go?...the inevitable dilemma about staying in the building during an earthquake

This month, we are taking a break from the actual preparedness issues and will instead delve further into this annoyingly counter-intuitive recommendation to not run out of buildings during earthquakes.

Monday, April 18, 2011

An amazing story from the past, AND more about hanging pictures that won’t come crashing down (the wired and non-wired varieties)

Even though I don’t plan on posting very often so  I don’t add to the e-mail overload of people who subscribe, it just makes sense to post something on April 18th, the anniversary of the great San Francisco earthquake of 1906.  There are two items on today’s plate: first a link to a then-young woman’s amazing description of what she experienced in the 1906 quake, and then I wanted to discuss a bit more about hanging pictures on the walls safely.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Important information about the recurring "Triangle of Life" e-mail spam

Thoughts about the much-publicized North American earthquake prediction for late March 2011

"Why the heck do you live in that place with earthquakes??"

A blog is launched; opening thoughts

This is my first experience authoring a blog, and there will probably be a few technical bumps along the way.  Earthquake safety is an important topic in a place like the San Francisco Bay Area, and I hope that the information and occasional thoughts and tips here will be of interest to people who are trying to maximize their safety in our occasionally moving region.

It's important to remember that even though we live in a place that is subject to earthquakes, which are occasionally pretty big, most of the risks associated with California earthquakes can be minimized by taking some precautions ahead of time.  Just like one knows not to go jogging alone in the middle of the night in a dark park in a dangerous part of town, one should know what to do and not to do in regions subject to natural disasters.

I'm kick-starting this blog with a few entries in a row, first introductory and then a few entries that have already been on my website.  After that, I'll post occasionally; perhaps even relatively rarely so that I don't add to people's e-mail burdens.  I've got no idea about how many people will be signing on to this, but welcome to those that do!

-Matt Springer

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