Candles, Sterno, Cooking, Open Flames for Indoor Events


Candles are only allowed during religious ceremonies, which have an approved Safety Plan.  The location needs to be approved as part of the Safety Plan review by EHS and the space administrator.

The safety precautions to include in the Safety Plan are:

  • Lit candles must be constantly attended until the candles have burned out or have been extinguished.
  • Assign an MIT person to be a fire watch and to ensure that the safety plan is implemented. They would report an emergency and evacuate if necessary.
  • Use sturdy metal, glass or ceramic holders that are deep enough to protect the flame
  • Keep decorations and any other combustible materials out of a 3 foot safe zone around the candles.
  • Use flame retardant materials (such as a baking pan or metal serving tray) near and under the candles
  • Put matches and candles in water before disposal. 
  • A fire fighter detail may be required by the Cambridge Fire Department.

Each year Hillel, EHS, and Housing agree on the safety plan to allow candles for the purpose of lighting a Chanukah Menorah in the dorms.  Hillel will provide the specific safety precautions, the Menorah, and candles to each of the students. 


The use of candles for decoration or for lighting is prohibited by the Mass Fire Prevention regulations. If you want to pursue the use of open flames as part of decorative arrangements or for serving food, contact the Safety Program with your proposed safety precautions that include the points listed above. A fire fighter detail is required. Candle fires are PREVENTABLE!

Safer alternatives include:  

  • Candles with rechargeable batteries and LEDs are greener than the disposable type. Battery-operated or electric candles and fragrance warmers, which can look and smelll like real candles.
  • flashlights
  • battery-operated lanterns



The use of sterno for serving food is allowed in certain rooms if adequate safety precautions are taken such as:

  • Assign the catering staff or an MIT person to be a fire watch.  Their job is to be nearby constantly when the sterno is burning so they can monitor that the safety precautions are taken and extinguish the sterno immediately if something catches on fire and/or if there is a fire alarm.  
  • The sterno must be in a fuel holder with an attached snuffer paddle, which is much safer than blowing out the flame.
  • Put the sterno in the fuel holder under the chafing dish, food tray or beverage urn before lighting. Use a long match or longer butane lighter. It is not safe to put sterno on a tablecloth, especially paper or plastic. 
  • Do not move equipment while the sterno is lit. 
  • Keep decorations and other paper/plastic items more than 6 inches away from the lit sterno.  

Safe and Unsafe Options for serving and cooking

Safe options for events held in large rooms:  bain maries, chaffers, convection ovens, hot crock pots, induction burners, waffle irons. The electrical equipment must be certified by UL or other Nationally Recognized Testing Laboratory. Each power cord should be plugged directly into a wall outlet, not an extension cord or multi-outlet strip.  This is to prevent overloading the circuit breaker and the extension cord.   

Safe options for events held in lobbies/ atriums (such as Kresge, W20, E25, 7, 10, 13, 34, 46, Stata Student Street) where it isn’t safe to use sterno or other open flames: warming trays or ovens (electrical or cambro-type)

Unsafe options for any event space: open flame (other than sterno), fryolators, and any other equipment that involves frying with a lot of oil. The Cambridge Fire Dept. prohibits propane cooking indoors. If your caterer needs to cook with propane outdoors, refer to Barbecue Safety Guidelines