Colder air moves in through the winter months so we spend a lot more time indoors. Gone for a little while are the fall afternoons that allow us to spend some time outdoors. This also means that heaters and other warming devices are used to keep us cozy in our homes. Unfortunately, that also makes it more likely that an electrical fire could occur.
How do you put out an electrical fire? Cut off electricity to the unit on fire or the home, call 911, add sodium bicarbonate (baking soda), remove oxygen source, and get the family out the door to a safe place.
One-Third of All Home Fires Come From an Electrical Source
Unfortunately, these types of fires are often difficult to predict and know where they will come from. If you see a fire in your home, the first thing you do is cut off the electricity to the unit that is on fire.
For example, if a lamp is plugged in and on fire, unplug it from the wall…if you can safely. If not, turn off the electricity to the house at the electrical panel box. This will cut off the electrical source in the home and you can avoid electrocution.
If it is a small electrical fire, such as one that started on an appliance or overload of a circuit, then you can throw baking soda on the flames to put it out. Baking soda is a chemical compound sodium bicarbonate and is in Class C fire extinguishers. It might also be a good idea to keep an open box of baking soda in the kitchen in case a toaster oven or other appliance catches on fire.
Do not use water if the electricity is still on– you may think this sounds like a good idea, however, the water is a conductor of electricity and shocking may happen.
Once the power is off, you can use a fire blanket or fire extinguisher to put the flames out. If this is not working, you can now use water- if the power is shut off. The water can spray from a sink or nozzle and fill up a bucket to put the fire out.
Keep a Fire Extinguisher Close By to Put Out an Electrical Fire
Every house should have a fire extinguisher close by because you never know when a fire will start. Make it a habit each year of checking to make sure it is in a place that everyone in the family can find it and also knows how to use it.
If you are unable to put the fire out and you can safely get to a place to call 911 from inside the home then do that. If not, get the family and fur babies out the door safely, close the door, and call from a safe place.
Prevention of Fires
There are several ways that you can try to prevent an electrical fire in the home.
One of those is having an electrician inspect the home to see if it is AFCI compliant. This is a device that can find electrical hazards that may not be noticed by regular circuit breakers and may prevent between 50-75% of electrical fires!
Don’t Overload Outlets and Circuits
Use light bulbs and plug-in appliances that are the appropriate wattage and don’t overload them. If you notice that your dimmer switch is hot, you need to investigate the amount of wattage allowed and make sure you are in the appropriate range. The recommended amount is not more than 1440 watts plugged in at one time on a 15 amp circuit.
A Bad Circuit Breaker Can Lead to an Electrical Fire
If you notice that the circuit breaker trips often, or fuses blow, you could have a bad circuit breaker . Take the time to check if this needs repairing before an electrical fire starts.
If your home was built between 1965-1973, there is a good chance that your home has a single strand of aluminum wire. This is not a good thing. The aluminum wire is connected to copper wire through the wrong size conductor and can start a fire. However, you can fix this by rewiring the home in copper or replace the copper connectors.
If your home was built between the 1950s and 1980s, it is possible it has an FPE panel . How do you know? Look to see if there is a label of “FPE”, “Federal Pacific Electric Company” or “Stab-Lok.” Do you see red-tips on the Federal Pacific breakers? If yes, then you have FPE Panel and will need to replace it. Unfortunately, it does cost about $1500 but is necessary to avoid fires.
Inspect Devices so You Can Avoid Having to Put Out an Electrical Fire
Inspecting the cords on devices is important to make sure there are no fraying or exposed wires hanging out. These can be a fire hazard and you want to stop using them right away.
Portable heaters are nice for keeping us warm in cooler places in the home, but also are a fire hazard if they don’t shut off. If yours tips over, you want to make sure it turns itself off. If not, it can start a fire.
Challenger GFCI recall
GFCI’s are located in areas in the home near water, such as the laundry room and the kitchen. They are made to trip if there is an electrical overload. However, the Challenger GFCI breaker does not and can cause a fire.
How do you know if you have this? The word “Challenger” is on the door or the inside of the panel. It also has the words “test” in yellow on one side. The other side has the numbers 15 or 20 in white. If you are not sure, contact an electrician to check it out for you.
Cleaning the Lint from the Dryer
Believe it or not, but lint from the dryer can be a safety hazard! It can become caught in the dryer and catch on fire. One way to prevent this is to do regular maintenance and clean the dryer vent.
The National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) says that 15,000 fires a year are from dryer malfunctions. The dryer vent is in the back of the dryer and can become clogged from lint or nests. Thus, not allowing the clothes to dry and causing a fire.
Smoke Detectors and Evacuation Plan
Every home should have a smoke detector in every room of the house and testing should be at least once a year. Also, creating an evacuation plan with your family in the case of a fire is important. Three of every five home fire deaths were from homes with no smoke alarm.
Smoke alarms save lives so make sure yours are working properly!
After the Fire
After the fire, contact your insurance company to have them come out and survey the damage. Also, hire a professional inspection company to inspect the home sign off that it is okay to live in.
Ventilating the home is the first step to make sure you can get the smoke-filled air out. Smoke will damage the home so you will also need to change the filter, clean the kitchen, garments, and use a mild detergent on the walls, furniture, and floors.
Make sure the walls completely dry if the water is sprayed on them. You don’t want mold to start growing on them or on the carpet nearby. If you smell a musty smell or see mold, you need to put gloves on and a mask and take care of it if it is a 3×3 or smaller space.
You can use vinegar and baking soda, antifungal cleaner, or bleach- but bleach is a last resort. Taking care of mold is important as the spores can spread and cause health issues in the home.
When to Call a Professional
Electrical fires are dangerous and can destroy homes and lives. Making sure your home is safe is important. Call a professional if you want an electrical analysis done and someone to inspect areas in your home. Don’t feel like you have to do it all alone, there are people out there to help.
Preventing home fires is important and keeping an eye on indicators can be the difference in whether a fire starts or not. Most importantly is turning off the power to the house and getting your family and yourself and fur babies out the door safely.
Take the time to make sure the family knows the evacuation plan and hopefully, you never have to use the steps listed above. If you have questions about electrical fires, or not sure if the breakers are working, reach out to us to help. You can leave a reply below and we are happy to help!