13 Sep, 2023
Posted by Prime Time Electricians
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What Causes Electrical Fires? Prevention and Safety Tips

For Perth residents and business owners, it’s important to know about the hidden dangers of faulty electrical systems. Electrical fires are a big one that we might not always think about. Electrical fires can ignite suddenly, spreading swiftly and often causing devastating damage. But what causes electrical fires, and how do electrical fires start?

What causes electrical fires?

Electrical fires might not happen every day, but when they do, the results can be devastating. Here’s a look at what causes them:

In the home

  1. Faulty Wiring: Old, worn-out, or improperly installed wiring can overheat and ignite.
  2. Overloaded Circuits: Too many devices plugged into a single outlet can strain the system.
  3. Outdated Electrical Systems: Older homes may not have the capacity to handle modern electrical loads.
  4. Faulty Electrical Outlets: Loose or damaged outlets can cause sparks.
  5. Misuse of Extension Cords: Overloading or using them as a permanent solution can lead to overheating.
  6. Misuse of Power Boards: Connecting multiple devices or ‘piggybacking’ to a single power strip carries the potential danger of overloading the circuit, as you may exceed the circuit’s capacity to handle the combined power load.
  7. Improper Use of Light Bulbs: Using a bulb with wattage too high for a fixture or lamp can cause overheating.
  8. Portable Heaters: Placing them too close to combustible materials like curtains or furniture can start fires.
  9. Damaged Electrical Cords: Frayed or pinched cords can expose wires, leading to sparks.
  10. Space Heaters: Using them without safety features or leaving them unattended increases fire risk.
  11. Short Circuits: A break in the pathway can cause the electrical current to take an unintended path, potentially igniting flammable materials.
  12. Flammable Materials: Storing them too close to electrical outlets or appliances can be a hazard.

    To read more: How To Avoid An Overloaded Power Outlet At Home

In businesses & workplaces

  1. Faulty Wiring: Over time, wiring can deteriorate or become damaged, leading to potential fires.
  2. Overloaded Circuits: Pushing electrical systems beyond their capacity by connecting too many devices can result in overheating.
  3. Inadequate Electrical Infrastructure: Some businesses might expand their operations without appropriately upgrading their electrical systems.
  4. Faulty Electrical Equipment: Office appliances and machinery with malfunctioning components can pose a fire risk.
  5. Improper Use of Extension Cords: Frequently relying on extension cords instead of permanent wiring or overloading them increases the fire risk.
  6. Unattended Equipment: Leaving machinery or equipment running unattended, especially overnight, can be hazardous.
  7. Inadequate Maintenance: Not routinely checking and maintaining business appliances, machines, and electrical systems.
  8. Misuse of Electrical Devices: Using devices for purposes other than their intended use or in environments they weren’t designed for.
  9. Flammable & Combustible Materials: Storing such materials near electrical sources or not storing them properly.
  10. Poorly Placed Heating Equipment: Space heaters or other heating devices placed near combustible materials.
  11. Lack of Safety Protocols: Not having or enforcing safety guidelines related to electrical usage.
  12. Insufficient Employee Training: Workers unaware of electrical safety can inadvertently contribute to fire risks.

To mitigate these risks, businesses should ensure regular electrical maintenance, educate employees about electrical safety, and have a clear set of safety protocols in place.

What causes electrical fires ar businesses

Electrical fires caused by outdated halogen bulbs

Electrical fires stemming from outdated halogen downlights without insulation cover shields in residential, commercial, and workplace settings pose a significant safety hazard. These older lighting fixtures can generate excessive heat, especially when in close proximity to insulation materials in the ceiling. 

Without proper insulation covers or shields, the heat can easily ignite surrounding materials or compromise the integrity of the electrical wiring, leading to potentially devastating fires. It is imperative for homeowners and business owners to address this issue promptly by replacing or retrofitting these older fixtures with more energy-efficient and safer alternatives, such as LED lighting, to reduce the risk of electrical fires and enhance overall safety. 

Electrical fires caused by outdated halogen bulbs

How do electrical fires start?

Electrical fires usually commence due to sparks from faulty wiring or devices. This spark might find a combustible material like wood or paper, which acts as fuel, leading to a fire. The scary fact? It can happen within walls, making early detection challenging.

How do electrical fires start

This concealment means that the fire has the potential to spread significantly before it’s detected, making it especially dangerous. Regular electrical inspections by a professional electrician and an awareness of the state of your electrical systems are vital in preventing an electrical fire. Additionally, recognising the early signs, like flickering lights or unusual odours from outlets, can be crucial in catching and addressing these hazards before they escalate into more severe threats.

Detecting an electrical fire

You might wonder, “what does an electrical fire smell like?” An electrical fire often emits a unique acrid odour resembling burning plastic or rubber. This distinct scent is an early warning sign, alerting you that something isn’t right.

Upon noticing this smell, it’s essential to act swiftly. Start by switching off your main power to cut off any potential fuel to the fire. Next, carefully inspect your outlets, plugs, and devices. Any discolouration or unusual warmth to the touch is a telltale sign of an overheating issue. In such cases, it’s best to consult an electrician to diagnose and resolve the problem before it escalates further.

If an electrical fire has already started, you’ll likely notice visible flames or see smoke emanating from your power outlet or appliance.

Detecting an electrical fire

What is the best course of action during an electrical fire? How to put out an electrical fire

Should you ever be confronted with an electrical fire, your response could mean the difference between a minor incident and a major catastrophe. Here’s what to do:

  1. Switch Off the Main Power: If you can safely reach the breaker, switch it off immediately.
  2. Use a Fire Extinguisher: Knowing how to put out an electrical fire is crucial. Never use water as it conducts electricity. Instead, use a Class C fire extinguisher designed specifically for electrical fires.
  3. Evacuate: If you are unable to put out the fire on your own, evacuate the premises immediately. If there are other people at the premises, safely guide them out. In both a residential and commercial setting, it is vital that you have a fire evacuation plan in place in the case of a fire emergency, in which all occupants are familiar with.
  4. Call for Help: Dial the 000 emergency number, and request fire services.

To read more: What Do I Do In An Electrical Emergency?

Prevention tips - how to stop an electrical fire

Awareness of what causes electrical fires is the first step, but prevention is key. Here’s how to stop an electrical fire before it starts:

  1. Regular Maintenance: Schedule periodic checks of your electrical systems. This proactive approach can help detect and rectify issues before they become hazardous. At Prime Time Electricians, we offer proactive electrical maintenance for both residential and commercial clients, to ensure your electrical systems, smoke alarms and appliances are working optimally.
  2. Avoid Overloading: Be mindful of the number of devices you plug into a single outlet, this includes using powerboards and ‘piggybacking’ adapters. Consider getting an electrician to install more outlets if needed.
  3. Quality Appliances: Invest in good-quality appliances with safety certifications. Replace any that show signs of wear and tear.

To read more: The Importance of Electrical Maintenance

Prevention tips how to stop an electrical fire

Prime Time Electricians: Your partner in electrical safety

Electrical safety is at the heart of everything we do at Prime Time Electricians. Our team of residential electricians and commercial electricians understands the intricacies of electrical systems, and we take pride in ensuring our WA community remains safe.

From routine checks to emergency interventions, our 24/7 emergency emergency electricians ensure you’re never left in the dark during an electrical crisis. Partnering with us means entrusting your safety to the best in the business.

The threat of electrical fires is real, but with awareness, vigilance, and the right partner by your side, prevention is possible. Get in touch with us for electrical inspections, electrical repairs and more.

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