Electrical Fires and How to Prevent Them
According to the US Fire Administration statistics for 2015, an estimated 389,900 fires were from electrical causes.
The top 5 of these causes were:
1. Faulty appliances or electrical cords
2. Problems with light fixtures
3. Extension cords
4. Space heaters
5. Wiring issues
Electrical fires are perhaps the most dangerous type of fire situations since they not only involve danger from the fire itself, but they involve the additional risk from electric shock. Here are some basic facts of why these fires happen and how to take proactive steps to prevent electrical fires in residences, businesses and on farms.
Faulty appliances or electrical cords: worn, outdated or poorly repaired appliances, power tools etc. are dangerous not only for fire reasons but for the possibility of deadly electric shock to users. Too many power tools have older power cords that someone spliced and taped and the possibility of a separation from pulling the cord loose and causing a fire is very real. Appliances left on for long periods such as coffee pots and irons for hair styling items like curling irons are serious points of danger. Continuing to use electrical cords that are frayed or broken can cause electrical fires. Older cords have brittle insulation that can break easily, exposing the inner wires. Replaced plugs can separate and lead to shock and/or fire.
Light fixtures: lighting devices can trap dust and debris from work areas and these can ignite. Using higher than the specified wattage bulbs can cause overheating and fire. Using unattended heat lamps to thaw pipes or heat up areas for small animals or larger ones, especially with combustible materials such as straw or hay nearby, are accidents waiting to happen.
Extension cords: extension cords tempt the user to add as many appliances as possible and each draws power. Overloaded extension cords can overstress outlets or be damaged by foot traffic. If covered by rugs or carpets they can fray and cause the fabric to ignite.
Space heaters: by their nature and usage, space heaters are prone to tip-overs or being left on for long periods. If absolutely necessary use safe heaters with no exposed heating coils and the type which shut off when a certain temperature is reached or when tipped over. Never leave any heat source unattended. Consider ceramic or oil-filled heaters if these are really necessary and shut them off when not in use.
Wiring: much of a structure’s wiring is behind walls. Rodents and even birds can chew wires and cause fire situations. DIY wiring is a serious problem on farms and ranches. The temptation to “fix” a wiring problem opens up serious danger. Saving money by having a friend do wiring or doing it yourself can lead to serious expense and violation of insurance policies.
Prevention is Key
Preventing Electrical Fires is a priority in managing property. Here are some tips on how to prevent electrical fires.
- Make a checklist and perform regular inspections of electrical fixtures, outlets, wiring and have a qualified and licensed professional make all repairs. Install GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter) type outlets to prevent shock or fire causing hazards from electric current.
- Avoid use of extension cords and unplug them as soon as task is finished.
- Replace outdated appliances and tools with UL approved ones.
- Avoid use of space heaters. If absolutely necessary select new ones that have no exposed element and are tip proof.
- Train residents, staff, and employees how to deal with an electrical emergency. Check the locations of circuit breakers. Replace older type of fire extinguishers with STOP-FYRE® extinguishers; these can quickly and safely put out all types of fires.
- Have policies and procedures for use of power tools, and appliances and space heaters. Businesses and farms should do an end-of-day walkthrough inspection to verify that safe conditions exist.
- Maintain and inspect smoke and heat detectors on a scheduled basis and have extinguishers ready and available at key points and train all staff to use them.
- Post maps with evacuation routes and the locations of circuit breakers and extinguishers. Have a plan for fire emergencies and make sure all employees and the local Fire Department have a copy.
Electrical fires can be prevented by paying attention to possible causes and taking precautions with electrical equipment and appliances. Being proactive in prevention is a full-time responsibility and one that must be taken seriously.