The Spark That Lights The Fire – Electrical Fire Hazards

September 26, 2013 in Newsletters

The spark that lights the fire… No we are not speaking metaphorically, and we’re not talking about lighting a campfire with flints either. We are talking about fire hazards due to electricity. Unfortunately, electricity seems to be a frequent cause of accidental house fires, so it makes sense to consider ways to prevent such fires, and also to know how to tackle these fires when they happen.

Is there such a thing as an electrical fire?

We normally class fires according to the fuel (material) that is burning, for example solid fuels such as wood, paper and fabric. The electricity is in fact a source of ignition or heat, thus contributing to starting the fire. The fire itself still requires a fuel source, as well as oxygen and heat in order to burn. Electrical fire hazards may be split in two – those where an electrical spark is generated, and those where an electrical current causes a large increase in temperature. When there are poor electrical contacts, or exposed wires, there may be sparks that fly off onto curtains, paper, or other combustible objects thus starting a fire. On the other hand, when there is an overload on an electrical socket, or a fault in an appliance, you may have a high current passing, which greatly increases the temperature of the wire or electrical socket, starting a fire. Appliances that normally use a high current, such as a toaster or an iron, need particular attention. It is also possible that blocking ventilation to an electrical appliance (such as computers or fridges) may cause a fault which in turn starts a fire.

Extinguishing a fire started by electricity or where electrical sockets are close to the fire

  1. The first thing to do in such a case is to switch off the electricity supply, preferably from the main switch. This stops the possibility of the fire starting again after extinguishing it, and also eliminates the danger of electrical shock.
  2. Next, extinguish the fire using a fire extinguisher if the fire is small enough to be controlled. If the fire has developed too much to handle by yourself, call the emergency number 112, and get yourself to safety.

Important: Whenever there is a smell or suspicion of a gas leak, NEVER operate electrical switches! A spark may cause an explosion. In this case, open windows and doors to ventilate the house and close off the gas source.

One of the most basic fire prevention strategies is proper housekeeping. Unnecessary paper or fabric close to ignition sources may develop into a serious fire in a short time.

Prevention

  • Do not overload electrical sockets. Use them as they are designed, as otherwise a higher than normal current will pass, raising the temperature and possibly starting a fire.
  • Make sure there are no exposed wires both on the side of the plug, as well as on the side of the appliance. Plugs also need to be of the correct type to match the socket outlet.
  • Remember to switch off appliances when not in use, preferably from the socket outlet.

Joe Bonnici
EFRU K9 / Rescuer