Properly Putting Out an Electrical Fire and How to Prevent One
Electrical fires can be one of the most dangerous types of house fires there are. On average, electrical fires cause about twice the financial damage of non-electrical fires and tend to bring about a higher chance of injury. When dealing with any kind of fire, knowing how to properly extinguish it and when it’s time to get to safety are crucial. If you ever have an electrical fire in your home, here’s how you can put it out properly.
Put Your Safety First
When you’re dealing with a fire in any scenario, it’s important that you put your safety and the safety of your loved ones first. If your gut tells you to get outside, listen to it and evacuate immediately. If you have even the slightest doubt that you can deal with the electrical fire on your own, leave it to the firefighters. You should only attempt to tackle an electrical fire if it’s small and in a contained area.
If you feel it’s safe to take on the fire, start by identifying the cause. If it’s safe to do so, unplug or power off the device or appliance causing it. If you cannot safely get to the outlet, you can always use the breaker box if you think you have enough time. If the fire is very small and hasn’t spread, it can be smothered with baking soda or covered with something non-flammable, cutting off the fire’s oxygen supply.
Using the Right Fire Extinguisher
When you’re dealing with an electrical fire, you should never use water to extinguish it. Since water is a good conductor of electricity, it can make the fire worse or even cause sparks and electrical shocks, putting you and your home in more danger. Instead, you should use a Class C fire extinguisher.
There are different types of fire extinguishers for different types of fires. Class A fire extinguishers are made to deal with ordinary combustibles such as wood, paper, and fabrics. Class B extinguishers are used to deal with fires that arise from flammable liquids and gases such as oil, gasoline, and paint. Class C extinguishers are designed specifically to deal with electrical fires.
Even if you don’t have a Class C extinguisher, an ABC extinguisher, which does the duty of Class A, B, and C extinguishers, can be used. It’s likely that you already have an ABC extinguisher in your home.
What Really Causes an Electrical Fire?
According to the United States Fire Administration (USFA), the majority of electrical fires begin in occupied parts of the home. But what actually causes electrical fires to ignite?
The USFA has said that almost 90% of electrical fires are started due to heat from powered equipment. Within that category, more than 70% of the fires are a result of electrical arcing. Electrical arcing is most commonly caused by general electrical failure or malfunction. Although bad practice results in a small percentage of electrical fires, electrical systems themselves are usually what’s to blame.
Preventing Electrical Fires
Sometimes, the best way to stop an electrical fire is to go the extra mile to prevent it from happening in the first place. This mainly involves making sure your circuits and electronics don’t overheat or spark. Understanding the fundamentals of how your home’s electrical system works is a good first step in this pursuit.
If your home has electricity, there’s a breaker box somewhere. A breaker box has switches called circuit breakers that control each branch circuit, which then distributes electricity throughout your home. Although breaker boxes work hard to break a circuit when it’s carrying more electricity than it can handle, circuit overloads can still occur, generating enough heat to create sparks or even start a fire.
The first main reason circuit overloads happen is because too many devices are using too many amps simultaneously. Most branch circuits are designed to be able to handle up to 15 or 20 amps at once (the exact number is typically displayed next to the breaker switch). If a circuit’s amp limit is exceeded, electrical fires can start.
If you’re concerned about how many amps that you’re using on each of your branch circuits, it’s never a bad idea to get an approximate calculation and see where things stand. Begin by figuring out the boundaries and amp rating for each branch circuit. Each breaker switch should be labeled to indicate which ones control each room. Then, for any given boundary, add up the watts used by each device to get the boundary’s total wattage use. Note that this also includes lightbulbs.
Finally, divide the total wattage by the voltage to get the amps. If you can’t figure out the exact voltage of a branch circuit, you can assume it’s probably about 120 volts, as that’s what most branch circuits receive. If you find that the amps are close to the limit of the branch circuit, it might be worth it to consider cutting back on electricity use in that boundary of your home to avoid the risk of sparks or fire.
The second main cause of a circuit overload is a short circuit. A short circuit occurs when electrons are able to flow through wires in an electrical circuit with too little resistance. The circuit can get overloaded easily when the flow isn’t being restricted as it should be.
If you notice that your home is short-circuiting frequently and there’s no apparent reason, there could be a serious issue with your electrical system that’s putting you and your home at risk. In this case, getting assistance from an electrician is of the utmost importance.
Additional Things to Keep in Mind When Working to Prevent an Electrical Fire
Data shows that time and time again, electrical fires happen when equipment is overloaded, misused, worn out, or poorly made in the first place. To ensure safety, equipment should be used only as it was intended. While power strips and extension cords, for instance, are convenient tools, they have watt and amp limits, too. Extension cords should not be tangled and should only be used as short-term solutions.
Extension cords and power strips shouldn’t be used to power high-wattage devices such as kitchen appliances as they’re simply not made for handling that kind of power. They also shouldn’t be run under carpets or floors. When heat gets trapped in a space and cannot escape, a fire is bound to start. Cords that are frayed shouldn’t be used under any circumstances. Cords should be protected while not in use and replaced immediately if there’s noticeable damage.
For any of your electrical needs, you can count on us at Black Lion Heating & Air Conditioning to offer you the very best service in Seattle, WA, and surrounding areas. In addition to our electrical services, we offer indoor air quality, heating and cooling, duct cleaning, and emergency services. Our team of professionals looks forward to finding long-term solutions to whatever issues your home may be facing. Give us a call today.