How Do Electrical Fires Start?Electrical Fires in Homes

FEMA reported that between 2014 and 2016, approximately 24,000 home electrical fires in the US per year. There were 310 deaths, over 400 injuries, and over $800 million in property damage due to these fires. While electrical problems cause many of these fires, you can avoid fires if you follow electrical safety precautions.

How Do Most Electrical Fires Start?
Common causes of electrical fires are:

  • Bad outlets
  • Electrical appliances
  • Faults in a light switch or other electrical systems
  • Frayed or worn electrical cords (they can produce heat on surfaces that can combust)
  • Incorrect light bulbs in sockets that specify another bulb
  • Extension cords (it is always best to plug appliances directly into the electrical outlet)
  • Space heaters
  • Cooking oil that causes grease fires in the kitchen
  • Deep fat fryers
  • Christmas trees
  • Not emptying the lint traps
  • Electrical wiring
  • Discontinued FPE electrical panels
  • Faulty knob and tube wiring (common in older homes over 20 years old)

How to Identify Electrical Fire?
If there is any good news about an electrical fire, it is the signs leading up to it which could give you time to avert disaster. They can include:

  • When you smell something is burning, but you cannot find it, it could be an electrical fire.
  • If your circuit breakers keep tripping, that is not normal and could be a fire sign. A circuit breaker keeps tripping because the circuits carry too much load, or it is short-circuiting. They are supposed to trip when there is an electrical threat to prevent fire. When the breaker boxes trip too often, they may stop working.
  • When you notice one of your electrical outlets stops working and is discolored, this is a clue that there could be a significant problem. You may need a qualified electrician to install ground fault circuit interrupters.

Signs of Electrical Fire in Walls
There could be problems in your walls that will eventually lead to a fire. There are warning signs that you should not ignore.

  • If you get a shock, no matter how little, when you unplug an appliance, that is a bad sign

    Doc Brown Shock GIF by Back to the Future Trilogy
  • If the switch plates for your light fixture is hot to the touch, this is a sign of a potential problem
  • If your lights are flickering or if you have dimming lights
  • If plugs of lamps and light fixtures fall out of the outlets easily, the outlet's inside is loose and should need replacing

What Does an Electrical Fire Smell Like?
As you might expect, an electrical fire has a persistent burning smell, but with a twist. Many different items can cause an electrical fire, which results in different scents. You may smell burning plastic. You may have an intense bitter smell or smell something fishy, which could be the sign of an electrical fire. Some chemicals smell like fish when they burn.

Electrical Fire - What to Do?

  • If you cannot extinguish it, get out of the house, and call 911.
  • If it is a small fire, disconnect the electricity to the item that is on fire. You may use baking soda or sodium bicarbonate, which smothers the fire. This will remove the oxygen from the fire.
  • Do not use water as it is a conductor and may spread a fire.
  • Make sure to use the proper fire extinguisher for this type of fire, including dry powder extinguishers.

Fire Extinguisher Used for Electrical Fires

  • You must use Class C fire extinguishers for electrical fires.
  • You can find dry chemical extinguishers containing monoammonium phosphate that have more than one classification.
  • Many used on electrical fires have an 'ABC' or 'BC' rating.
  • You can use fire extinguishers with a C rating on electrical fires.
  • You can use CO2 extinguishers and dry powder extinguishers.

Fire Extinguishers That Should Never Be Used on Electrical Fires
You never want to use Class A rated fire extinguishers on Class C fires. Class A extinguishers are water fire extinguishers, and water can act as a conductor and electrocute you.

How Do You Prevent an Electrical Fire?

  • A simple inspection of your home can help prevent fire.
  • You want to check outlets to ensure they are not overloaded.
  • You want to check all electrical wires and cords to make sure they have not frayed.
  • You should install a smoke detector in your house.
  • Surge protectors are an excellent preventative measure.
  • You may consider a home risk assessment to check for high voltage or other carbon dioxide concerns.

Hope that helps!

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At your service,
Young Alfred