What Causes an Electrical Fire?

What Causes an Electrical Fire?

More than 35,000 electrical fires occur each year in homes and businesses throughout the United States, leading to around 500 deaths and 1,500 injuries annually. Electric fires are becoming ever more frequent; households and businesses need to take action to prevent these incidents from occurring. The first thing to do is understand what exactly causes an electrical fire.

The most common causes of electrical fires are:

  • Old or faulty wiring
  • Old faulty outlets or appliances
  • Extension cords
  • Space heaters
  • Light fixtures

Electrical Fire Statistics and Causes of Fires

  • Out of the 35,000+ electrical fires that occur every year, more than half involve lighting equipment or faulty/dated home electrical wiring.
  • Most electrical fires occur from December to March and happen from midnight to 6:00 am.
  • Excessive Christmas lights, space heaters, overloaded fuse boxes, and overworked stoves are just a few things that can lead to electrical fires.
  • Electrical malfunctions or failures make up, on average, 13% of US home fires, 17% of home fire deaths, and 11% of home fire injuries every year. Around 70% of all fires that occur throughout the country can be linked to electrical equipment. Stoves, heating equipment, dryers, lighting, excessive dust around electricity, and wiring are serious culprits.

Old Wiring

Having old wiring or wiring that was poorly done can easily cause an electrical fire. Homes that were built before 1990 may not have the electrical capacity to accommodate the amount of energy modern homes consume. An outdated breaker won’t flip when overloaded, which can result in an electrical fire. Any wires that were not originally placed correctly, that have a loose connection, or that are not properly protected, also pose a threat.

Bad Outlets and Dated Appliances

Faulty electrical outlets and old appliances cause most electrical fires. Outlets with bad connections or the incorrect amperage rating can also start certain fires. Never use a device with a broken or split cord or frayed areas. Don’t run cables under rugs. Never try removing the grounding plug from anything if you plan to plug it in again!

Homes That Are Not Up to Code

Aluminum wires and knob and tube wiring are both common in older homes. They are not safe for modern homes and are simply ticking time bombs for an electrical fire. If you have dated fuse boxes, uncovered junction boxes, and/or a lack of GFCI (ground-fault circuit interrupters) plugs then your home is at a heightened risk.

Extension Cords

Using an extension cord in a way that it wasn’t designed for can start a fire. For example, if you plug a refrigerator into a $3 extension cord and run that wire across your garage for it to remain forever, you may cause an electrical fire. Most extension cords are designed for short term use and not for appliances. You can try finding fire-safe extension cords on Amazon, or at a local home goods store like Home Depot or Lowes.

Fire Shield Extension Cord

8ft long safety extension cord with built in fire protection.

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Fire Shield Extension Cord
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Space Heaters

Those cold days and nights can warm up quickly if your space heater causes a fire! Don’t put space heaters too close to curtains, sheets, furniture — or pretty much anything. Give them space. It’s in the name.

Lightbulbs

Old lightbulbs or bulbs that have a wattage higher than is needed for a particular lamp can start a fire. Another common cause of lamp fires is placing towels, a handful of tissues, or a sheet over a lamp. Materials like this can heat up and ignite quickly.

What to do after a fire occurs?

  1. Contact your insurance company. This shouldn’t be something you need to pay for out of pocket.
  2. Find out when you can safely enter the home or business again.
  3. Get a list of your damaged items together.
  4. Obtain a copy of your fire report.
  5. Find somewhere to stay while your home or business is repaired.

What is a Fire Report?

A fire report is all about finding where it started and what the cause was. Standard fire investigation reports will include when the fire started, when the alarm/emergency call was made, the arrival time of emergency personnel, and the location. It should also include an estimate of the damage, building type, and if anyone was hurt.

One of the most challenging parts of this process is finding out where and how the fire started. The location of where it started is often called the “seat of the fire.” This spot will be significantly damaged or completely destroyed. In larger buildings and homes, this spot can easily be buried under rubble if there was a lot of damage. Once this spot is found, experts will work to find evidence of what caused it.

How to Make Your Home and Family Fire Safe

Preventing an electrical fire is much easier than dealing with the aftermath of a fire. There are easy ways to help make your home safe for you and your loved ones.

1. Make sure it is free of debris and combustible materials. You do not want this stuff scattered around your house. Not only can it be fuel to the fire, but it can also make it more difficult for your family to get out.
2. Always have an exit plan in place if a fire occurs. This is very important if you have young children in your home.
3. If you are updating your home, use fire-resistant materials. This is especially important with insulation.
4. A fully functioning fire alarm system is an absolute must. If you have old smoke detectors: replace them. Make a plan twice a year to check fire alarms and replace batteries if needed.
5. Always have a fire extinguisher ready and in an easy to use place. Fire extinguishers do expire, so check the date on yours to ensure it is still in good working condition! They even make rechargeable fire extinguishers.

First Alert Rechargeable Fire Extinguisher

4-pack of rechargeable multi-use fire extinguishers for your home and garage.

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First Alert Rechargeable Fire Extinguisher
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