What is an electrical fire?
An electrical fire is originated by a problem with one or more parts of an appliance, a piece of equipment, machines or electrical circuits. Even though these fires are less common than fires initiated by other causes, electrical fires are disproportionately more destructive.
How is an electrical fire initiated?
In general, an electric fire starts by one of two ways: a spark or overheating.
A spark is produced when electricity cannot find a clear path between its origin up to its destination, like from a receptacle to an appliance. The spark starts in the same way a lighter generates fire and may propagate through any flammable material.
Overheating occurs when an electrical device gets way too hot. When electrical equipment gets hot, cables begin to melt, and wires get exposed. If it gets hot enough, it can start a fire by contact, like when a red-hot metal touches paper, as the lighters we used to have in cars.
What causes an electric fire?
Most of these fires are caused by bad wiring, like frayed cords, loose wiring, poor insulation, undersized wires and faulty wires. In any of these cases cables get too hot and begin to spark creating arcs and igniting flammable materials that are in contact. Also, circuit overload may end in an electrical fire, like when there are too many devices in a receptacle or when there is a lightbulb of higher capacity than that of its socket.
How to prevent an electrical fire?
There are several actions you may take to prevent an electrical fire occurring in your property:
- Frequently verify that the cables you use to connect your appliances and electric devices are in good conditions. If they are frayed or loose replace or discard them.
- If your appliances are not working properly or are overheating disconnect them and have them repaired or replace them.
- Make sure the metal part from the plug of your device is completely inserted inside the receptacle. You should not be able to see any metal exposed when a plug is properly connected.
- Verify that all electrical elements in your property like switches, receptacles, electrical panels, lamp sockets, circuit breakers, etcetera, are in good conditions. In case any of them is damaged or does not operate properly, call a licensed electrician that may help you solve the issue in a safe way.
- Do not overload circuits in your property. Check that the current capacity (amps) of the appliances connected and turned on in each receptacle that belongs to a circuit does not exceeds the rating of its breaker. The current rating of a breaker is the number written on top or to the side of it.
- Stay within the limits of extensions and power strips. Make sure that they are approved by an independent laboratory, like UL. Use them as a short-term solution. Do not connect one to another. Make sure they are not overloaded. Verify the maximum ampere capacity and make sure your appliances do not go over it. Do not hide extension cords under rugs as they may overheat.
- Always call a licensed electrician when you need to work on your property’s wiring.
- Install smoke detectors in every room: living room, dining room, kitchen, bedroom, bath, etc.
How to safely put out an electrical fire?
If there is an electrical fire where you are, take the following measures in mind:
- Do not try to put out a fire that is getting out of control. In that case safely evacuate the premises and call the fire department.
- In case it is a small and manageable fire:
- If possible, disconnect the circuit breaker in the electrical panel.
- Never use water. Water is a conductor and throwing it into an electrical fire may develop dangerous sparks and electrical shocks.
- Use an appropriate fire extinguisher rated for electrical fires:
- Class C – for electrical fires.
- Class ABC – for various types of fires including electrical fires.
There should be at least one extinguisher for each level of your property.