Print Comment RSS

Firefighting 101
by FireRescue1 Staff

5 common causes of electrical fires

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there are 28,600 electrical fires per year

By FireRescue1 Staff

According to the U.S. Fire Administration (USFA), there are 28,600 electrical fires per year. These fires cause $1.1 billion in property damage and loss and are responsible for 310 deaths and 1,100 injuries each year.

The months with the most electrical fires are December and January due to increased use of heating appliances and lights. Most electrical fires start in the bedroom, but the highest number of fatalities occur with fires located in the living room, family room and den.

Some electrical fires happen because of problems in house wiring or appliance failure, but many occur due to mistakes that homeowners make like overloading electrical outlets or extension cords.

In order to prevent yourself or someone you love from becoming an electrical fire statistic, it is important to be aware of the common causes of electrical fires.

Here are the 5 most common causes of electrical fires:

1. Most electrical fires are caused by faulty electrical outlets and old, outdated appliances. Other fires are started by faults in appliance cords, receptacles and switches. Never use an appliance with a worn or frayed cord which can send heat onto combustible surfaces like floors, curtains, and rugs that can start a fire.

Running cords under rugs is another cause of electrical fires. Removing the grounding plug from a cord so it can be used in a two-prong electrical outlet can also cause a fire. The reason appliances have the extra prong is so they can be only used in outlets that can handle the extra amount of electricity that these appliances draw.

2. Light fixtures, lamps and light bulbs are another common reason for electrical fires. Installing a bulb with a wattage that is too high for the lamps and light fixtures is a leading cause of electrical fires. Always check the maximum recommended bulb wattage on any lighting fixture or lamp and never go over the recommended amount.

Another cause of fire is placing materials like cloth or paper over a lampshade. The material heats up and ignites, causing a fire. Faulty lamps and light fixtures also frequently result in fires.

3. Misuse of extension cords is another electrical fire cause. Appliances should be plugged directly into outlet and not plugged into an extension cord for any length of time. Only use extension cords as a temporary measure. If you do not have the appropriate type of outlets for your appliances, hire an electrician to install new ones.

4. Space heaters are a major cause of electrical fires. Because these types of heaters are portable, many times people put them too close to combustible surfaces such as curtains, beds, clothing, chairs, couches and rugs. Coil space heaters are especially dangerous in this regard because the coils become so hot they will almost instantaneously ignite any nearby flammable surface. If you do use space heaters, use the radiator-type that diffuse heat over the entire surface of the appliance. These are less likely to ignite flammable items, but should still be kept away from them.

5. Outdated wiring often causes electrical fires. If a home is over twenty years old, it may not have the wiring capacity to handle the increased amounts of electrical appliances in today’s average home, such as computers, wide screen televisions, DVD players, microwaves and air conditioners.

Breakers should be triggered when circuits get overloaded by too much electricity, but outdated breaker boxes often have worn connectors that do not work, causing the system to overload and start an electrical fire.


About the author

Firefighting 101 articles are intended to educate a non-fire service audience about the fire service profession. These articles are written by FireRescue1 staff members and FireRescue1 contributors, and cover a wide range of topics from how to join a fire academy to how to pass the exams required to be a firefighter. If there's a topic you'd like to see covered, or are interested in writing for Firefighting 101, email

The comments below are member-generated and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of or its staff. If you cannot see comments, try disabling privacy and ad blocking plugins in your browser. All comments must comply with our Member Commenting Policy.
Elsie Graham Beaulne Elsie Graham Beaulne Friday, December 27, 2013 10:19:35 AM interesting read
Alfonso Mwamba Alfonso Mwamba Sunday, January 12, 2014 4:48:55 AM 5 Points are very important
Richard Tapal Richard Tapal Thursday, May 29, 2014 5:29:52 AM it is correct and a useful reminder to all..
Mark Bulla Mark Bulla Thursday, May 29, 2014 5:50:09 AM Well written and important info. One thing - the third prong on an electric cord is not to handle more current (#1) - it's a safety system to keep people from getting electrocuted if tfe outside of whatever it's supplying power to gets charged with electricity. The ground will drain the charge (and most likely blow the breaker). Normally, the ground wire will have no current flowing in it.
Shahid Rana Shahid Rana Thursday, May 29, 2014 6:50:35 AM mobile charger should be plug off after charging
Craig Woodard Craig Woodard Thursday, May 29, 2014 7:00:38 AM Just a note on your light fixtures, you will find that the max wattage on most is 60w.
Ben Cooper Ben Cooper Thursday, May 29, 2014 9:54:54 PM also watch where u set crock pots I fought a house fire caused by a crock pot sitting on paper grocery bags to catch drips the home was a total loss

FireRescue1 Offers

Connect with FireRescue1

Mobile Apps Facebook Twitter Google+