Using Candles at Businesses in Cambridge May Be Illegal

Using a candle at a place of business in Cambridge, Massachusetts, may have you breaking the law.

In August, fire officials showed up to the UpperWest, a wine bar on Cedar Street, saying the owners needed to put their candles out citing a city law.

"Says we can't cook at the tables with candles. But we weren't doing that," said Kim Courtney, co-owner of UpperWest.

Police showed up again the following month for the same reason. When both sides could not come to an agreement, the issue went before the Cambridge License Commission.

"They're trying to intimidate us because we are standing up for Cambridge businesses," said Courtney.

City officials said if UpperWest refuses to comply, their liquor license will be at stake.

"Definitely feel harassed by the License Commission," said Xavier Dietrich, co-owner of UpperWest.

On Oct. 1, a mysterious new paragraph popped up on the Cambridge Fire Department’s website, without a public process.

"Some person put a sentence on the website," said Courtney. "That does not create a law."

The statement on the Cambridge Fire Department website reads: "The Cambridge Fire Department does not allow the use of candles unless approved by the Fire Prevention Bureau."

The post refers to a section 10.10.2 of the Massachusetts Fire Code, which states the department "prohibit[s] any or all open flames, candles, and open, recreational, and cooking fires or other sources of ignition, or establish special regulations on the use of any form of fire or smoking material where circumstances make such conditions hazardous."

Cambridge Acting Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney and other Cambridge leaders have remained silent when asked about the unannounced addition to its website. A city spokesperson did say they've been enforcing the candle ban consistently in public places like restaurants and clubs. Private residences and houses of worship are exempt.

"There's no state board rule that says candles are illegal," said Courtney, who is also an attorney.

Courtney and Dietrich believe the city is misinterpreting the law and unfairly targeting them. They now say their livelihood is at stake.

"[It] causes us to spend a great deal of time responding to their false allegations," said Dietrich.

After a hearing on Wednesday, the License Commission suspended UpperWest’s liquor license for three days. The owners said they will appeal.

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