burnt house electrical fire

The Facts About Electrical Fires

Electrical fires are one of the leading cause of housefires in Australia. They are an unfortunate recurring trend. Some reports say 40 per cent of housefires in New South Wales were caused by electrical faults, while in Western Australia electrical issues are a leading cause of household fires.

There are two main causes of electrical fires, ageing wiring or powerpoints and overloaded power boards and sockets. Meanwhile, Other electrical hazards include faulty appliances and the misuse of electrical equipment.

It’s important that everyone understands the risks of electrical faults and the true threat an electrical fire poses. Prevention and maintenance truly is the best defence to make sure your home is always well protected.

Common Causes of Electrical Fires

Faulty or Outdated Wiring

The quality of a home’s wiring goes a long way to determining whether it is safe or contains hidden fire risks. Outdated wiring is one of the leading causes of electrical fires as older homes were not designed to keep up with the load modern society demands. Just think about all the appliances that are in use on a daily basis now, compared to 1990, let alone the 1960s or earlier.

Old wiring which is not properly protected or has degraded is at a greater risk of igniting. Insulation and other associated parts will break down, leaving wires unsafely exposed. Frequently tripping circuit breakers or blown fuses and flickering lights are two common indicators of faulty wiring. Burnt, charred or darkened powerpoints and power cords are another warning sign that something is wrong with the wiring.

If you pick up a burning smell from within the home, then it’s likely that an electrical fire is not far away. Ignition of flammable materials could be instantaneous.

Damaged Extension Cords and Overloaded Powerboards

Extension cords that get regularly trodden on or have wiring exposed at the plug become dangerous to use. One of the best ways of preventing electrical fires is not to use any electric leads that are in poor condition.

Meanwhile, piggybacking adaptors and powerboards, is a big no-no. The electrical circuit could easily be overloaded and in a system that was not designed to handle numerous devices.

Faulty Powerpoints

Loose and very old powerpoints can often prove to be a serious problem too. Worn out sockets that are not properly grounded pose a serious threat with regular plugging and unplugging of appliances or chargers. Meanwhile, loose wiring could easily break off and trigger a fire. With a lot of power concentrated in one place, powerpoints must always be maintained and replaced if damaged.

overloaded powerboard electrical fire
Don’t overload powerboards

Light Fixtures

Even something as simple as a light bulb can cause trouble. Light fixtures are designed to take a maximum recommended bulb wattage and if you put in a light bulb that draws more power than it is rated for, there is the possibility of overheating and electrical fire. You can also have problems with old light switches that have been knocked around and become loose with damaged wiring.

How to Put Out an Electrical Fire

Electrical fires are what are class E fires and you should not use water to put out an electrical fire. If you have a dry chemical fire extinguisher with a white band, that is what you would use as well as switching off the electricity or unplugging the offending powerboard.

Baking Soda

Plenty of websites recommend using baking soda but never tease out the practicality of such a suggestion. You might have some baking soda or bicarbonate of soda in the pantry, but sprinkling it on an electrical fire may not be successful. It is an ingredient in the powder type fire extinguishers, but they can deliver it in a way that smothers the fire properly.

bicarbonate of soda electrical fire
Bicarbonate of soda is used in some dry chemical extinguishers but isn’t easy to use to put out an electrical fire

Turn off the Power

The best thing to do is to turn off the electricity. This can be right at the source if possible, and failing that at the switchboard. Once electricity is no longer a factor in the fire, you can use a fire blanket. The reason that you don’t use water to put out an electrical fire is that water conducts electricity and there is the possibility of getting a shock. If the power is off, then there is no electricity flowing anymore and the danger has gone. It’s no longer an electrical fire. It’s a fire that you need to extinguish.

Once the fire is out, don’t turn things back on. You will need to get an emergency electrician in to repair the problem first.

How to Prevent Electrical Fires

Prevention, as they say, is better than cure. To reduce the risk of an electrical fire, never use worn extension cords. Think about upgrading powerpoints and light switches that are more than 20 years old. If your home has wiring that is really starting to age, you should consider the safety of your family and look into rewiring your place. And don’t ignore warning signs such as lights flickering or constantly tripping circuit breakers.

The things to watch out for are:

  • Burning smells
  • Power fluctuations
  • Fuses constantly blowing or circuit breakers tripping
  • Loose powerpoint outlets

In summary, always pay attention to your home’s electrical components. Ensure power sockets, light bulbs and appliances are all up-to-date. Avoid overloading circuits and running too many appliances at once. And if you’re ever in doubt about your home’s electrical safety, contact a licensed electrician for a thorough inspection.

Published: 2021-03-29

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