From 1999-2003, electrical distribution and lighting equipment were involved in an estimated 19,100 reported home structure fires per year. These fires resulted in 140 civilian deaths, 610 civilian injuries and an estimated $349 million in direct property damage per year.
Keep an eye out for electrical hazards. Be aware of warning signs for possible electrical problems that could start a fire in your home.
Fuses and circuit breakers
- If a fuse or circuit breaker blows, find out why it blew and correct the problem. If you can't determine the problems, contact a qualified electrician.
- Make sure replacement fuses have the proper amperage rating for the circuit they protect.
- Don't overload your wiring by plugging more than one heat-producing appliance into the same outlet or circuit.
AFCI (arc-fault circuit-interrupter)
When an electrical switch is opened or closed, an arc or discharge of electricity across a circuit occurs. Unintentional arcs can occur at loose connections or where wires of cords have been damaged. Such arcs can lead to high temperatures and sparking, possibly igniting combustibles. AFCIs protect against fire by continuously monitoring the electrical current in a circuit and shutting off the circuit when unintended arcing occurs. The National Electric Code requires AFCI installation in bedrooms of new residential construction. Test AFCIs monthly.
GFCI (ground-fault circuit-interrupter)
A ground-fault is an unintentional electrical path between a source of electrical current and a grounded surface. Electrical shock can occur if a person comes into contact with an energized part. A ground-fault circuit-interrupter can reduce the risk of shock by immediately shutting off an electrical circuit when that circuit represents a shock hazard (ex. - a person comes into contact with a faulty appliance together with a grounded surface). GFCIs can be hardwired into your electrical system, built into or plugged into electrical outlets, or built into extension cords. GFCI installation is required by the National Electrical Code for receptacles in kitchens, bathrooms, outdoor areas, basements, and garages in new residential construction. Test GFCIs monthly.
- Replace old outlets with modern types that accept three-pronged polarized plugs (only if your circuit has a ground wire.).
- Never alter a plug to fit an outdated outlet.
- Install plastic safety covers in unused outlets to protect children.
- Buy only appliances that bear the label of an independent testing lab.
- Keep irons, space heaters, and all heat-producing appliances at least three feet away from anything that can burn.
- Unplug toasters, coffeemakers, and all small appliances when they're not in use.
- Allow adequate ventilation around computers, stereo systems, and all electronic components to prevent overheating.
- Replace cracked and frayed electrical cords.
- Don't pinch cords against walls or furniture or run them under carpet or across doorways.
Place lamps on level surfaces and away from combustibles. Use bulbs that match the lamp's recommended wattage. Use shades that will protect the bulb from breaking if the lamp is knocked over.
Make sure outdoor electrical fixtures are weatherproof. Power holiday lighting displays from permanent circuits installed by an electrician - never from extension cords. Don't use electrical appliances outdoors when the ground is wet unless the tool has been rated for that specific use. Never run extension cords across lawns, walks or driveways, and use only extension cords rated for outdoor use.
Never touch a power line. Stay at a safe distance - you could be electrocuted. Keep ladders (especially metals ladders) far away from power lines, including the electrical service to your home. Report downed power lines and mark the area to warn people to stay away.
Be aware of unusual conditions. Spot electrical problems before they start a fire or cause a shock. Watch for:
- Recurring problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers.
- Feeling a tingle when you touch an electrical appliance.
- Discolored outlets.
- A burning smell or rubbery odor coming from an appliance.
- Flickering lights. If you don't pinpoint a problem inside your home, have the power company inspect the service to you and your electric meter.
Don't wait for problems. If it's safe, unplug malfunctioning appliances. If necessary, cut off power by unscrewing a fuse or turning off the circuit breaker. Then call a professional electrician.
For additional information, please email the Fire District 6 Public Education Coordinator or call us at 360-576-1195.