Not My Fault
Another week, another blog, and another game to play! Let’s start with a riddle. What do a casino, a jail, a hospital, and a church all have in common?
Well, you guessed it, they all had an electric fire in the past week.
Unfortunately, it seems as though every time we refresh our Google news feed, another electrical fire pops up. Not good folks. Literally, after we wrote the riddle, an electrical fire broke out in an elementary school. What is happening? Perhaps, it’s just a bad week or we are just extra observant, as it is the topic of this week’s blog, but it seems like there might be a problem going on here? Click here if you want to see for yourself. If you check back the next morning, there’s a good (or maybe it’s bad) chance that a new story will pop-up. Okay, let’s chat about it.
Tell us more.
Where do we even begin? Um. Let’s travel first to the Cosmopolitan Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada – the scene of the latest electrical fire. On Monday evening, smoke and flames were seen coming from the outdoor pool area. Sounds frightening. The local Clark County fire department was dispatched to put out a fire that was believed to have been started in an electrical room near the pool. Ah, electricity and pools. What a match-up.
Oh, we should mention something important. There were no injuries reported for any of these fires!
Moving right along to the warm, sunny, Miami, Oklahoma, where an electrical fire at the Ottawa County Jail led to the evacuation and relocation of 110 inmates on Saturday afternoon. This time, the fire began in the ceiling between the kitchen and an inmate’s cell.
Okay, next we are road-tripping to Charlotte, North Carolina, where an electrical fire at a church caused over $40,000 in damages on Monday. Fire officials believe that this blaze was set off by faulty electrical wiring in the steeple area. Ugh. This is making us sad.
Almost there – to Idaho we go! On Tuesday, the Idaho Falls Fire Department responded to a fire in the mechanical room of the radiology department at the Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Due to advanced fire protection and smoke control systems in place at the hospital, only a minor departmental evacuation was necessary, and the hospital remained almost completely operational during the incident. Pretty impressive. The fire was quickly extinguished, and the smoke was ventilated from the building, after which the hospital staff were given the all-clear to resume normal operations. The whole incident took less than two hours. Talk about efficiency!
Not sure about you all, our dear readers, but all this fire talk is really bringing us down.
Where are we going with this?
Well, there’s got to be a way to prevent all these electrical fires. We have some ideas for you.
But first, we have some stats. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), electrical distribution, lighting, and power transfer equipment accounts for 50% of home electrical fires. In the United States, electric failures or malfunctions account for 13% of all fires starting in a home structure, which is the second leading contributing factor to these fires. Want to know the first? It’s unattended equipment. Come on, people! Watch the stove and oven, please.
So, what causes an electrical fire?
When you are looking at electrical fires from electrical failure or malfunction, as we are today, these are primarily caused by an unintentional discharge of electrical current between two conductors. This is called arcing, pronounced are-KING, not are-SING, in case you were curious. We like to keep you well educated over here on our blog. You are welcome.
Anyways, if an arc fault has enough time and a high enough level of current, things will start to heat up, which can ignite a fire. Arcing is typically caused by damaged conductors and connectors or faulty, deteriorated wiring. Arc faults can start in almost any area of a home or office on literally any piece of electrical equipment. Great to hear!
Whom else can we blame for electrical fires? Short circuits. These are the result of damaged, deteriorated, or faulty insulation, which is often accomplished when cords or wires are pinched between doors or furniture or are repetitively bent. Just yesterday, as this blog was being crafted, the laptop charger cord was stuck in the crevice of the desk. Not good folks. Very bad example of what to do. Don’t fear though, we’ve since remediated the problem.
Now let’s say, you spent all weekend binge-watching Fixer Upper on HGTV. Naturally, you took a trip to Home Depot, and proceeded to go full DIY-crazy on your home. We totally get it. Albeit fun, these actions could be a contributing factor to a potential electrical fire in your home, as nails, screws and drills can puncture wiring, thus damaging its insulation. We’re not telling you to stop though, as we would go as far to say that most (if not all of us) have nailed some decor in the walls of our homes, at some point. If you live an apartment, don’t worry, we won’t tell your landlord.
Finally, old electrical systems in general can cause arcing. This could be the result of normal aging (wear and tear, as they say) or because older systems cannot accommodate the high demand of modern-day appliances.
There is a silver lining though. The number of electrical fires in the United States has been on the decline since the early 80s. Go us!
Is prevention possible?
Of course. Let’s give you some options. First, we should mention, a highly trained electrician is your best bet for performing the following electrical tests in your home. This is not the kind of project you’ll want to tackle HGTV-style by yourself. Remember we aren’t strictly talking about electrical fires in homes though, since we started this blog out with that world-class riddle. If you are an electrician or maintenance superhero for a large building, say a church, hospital, jail, or hotel, then these suggestions are for you too. They may be of even greater worth, since more square footage means more wiring, connections, and insulation.
1. Insulation Resistance (IR) Testing: As we mentioned, insulation breakdown can cause a short circuit. Thus, the need for an insulation resistance tester. Since we are talking about building (or home) wiring, you will be good to go with a low voltage IR tester. If you are moving on up to bigger, more industrial or utility situations, then you might need to look into a medium voltage IR tester.
2. Low Resistance Ohmmeter: Remember those bad connections and joints we mentioned earlier? Yes, a low resistance ohmmeter can help you identify those problem areas, which generate heat that can ultimately lead to electrical fires.
3. Ground Testing: If your grounding electrode is in really bad shape, we are talking complete corrosion here, then fault current can radiate through wires and start an electrical fire. To prevent these situations, routine ground testing is essential.
There you have it. Sometimes electrical fires just happen. We understand. Just don’t let an arc fault be your fault. With proper electrical testing, you are one step closer to preventing electrical fires. If you are looking for more electrical safety tips, we recommend this awesome guide.
-Meredith Kenton, Digital Marketing Assistant, Megger – Valley Forge