How to put out an electrical fire in five steps
A community guide for preventing and extinguishing electrical fires
Winter typically means spending more time indoors and using more electricity – to heat our homes, power devices that keep us entertained and light up our houses indoors and out during the holidays.
But electricity is a hidden danger to the residents in your community. Because it is so frequently used, most people tend to underestimate the risk potential and dangers that come with electrical fires.
In fact, one-third of all home structure fires stem from an electrical source, and because they tend to be difficult to identify, they are usually much more dangerous and destructive than other types of fires.
In an effort to keep your community safe, please keep these tips for combatting an electrical fire handy in the event of an emergency, and share them with friends and family. Knowing how to respond quickly could be the difference between a small fire and a devastating disaster.
If an electrical fire starts
1. Cut off the electricity. If the device that is causing the electrical fire is found, and you can reach the cord and outlet safely, unplug it.
2. Add sodium bicarbonate. If the fire is small, you may put it out by smothering it with baking soda.
3. Remove the oxygen source. It may also be put out by removing the oxygen source with clothing or a heavy blanket if the fire is small and it is safe to do so.
4. Don’t use water to put it out. Water is a natural conductor of electricity and if you throw water on an electrical fire, you can get shocked or electrocuted. Also, water may enable to fire to spread by conducting electricity throughout the room and potentially igniting flammable materials.
5. Check your fire extinguisher. Electrical fires are a Class C fire, which means that you will need an extinguisher that is appropriate for this type of fire. Most residential fire extinguishers are multi-purpose and labeled ABC, but it is crucial to verify this before using it on an electrical fire.
Electrical fires result in almost 500 deaths and more than 1,400 injuries annually. They are very dangerous.
If you are unable to extinguish the electrical fire
- GET OUT. You and any family members need to leave as soon as you can to prevent injury or loss of life. Do not try to be a hero.
- Close the door as you leave to contain the fire.
- Call 911 as soon as you are a safe distance from the fire.
- Do not re-enter your home until the fire has been contained by firefighters.
While it is important to remember these steps in order to take appropriate action during an electrical fire, it’s equally, if not more, important to take action to prevent them from occurring in the first place.
How to stop an electrical fire from occurring
- Invite an electrician to inspect the home to ensure it meets the safety provisions in the NEC. They can also identify if the home would benefit from AFCI protection. These devices recognize potential electrical hazards that are not detected by standard breakers and can be especially helpful in older homes. They can prevent between 50-75% of certain types of electrical fires.
- Always use light bulbs that match the recommended wattage for the fixture or lamp.
- Install child precautions when they are present to prevent accidental electrocution.
- Never use extension cords with heating units or air conditions. They should only be used temporarily.
- Do not overload the outlets. If additional circuits are necessary, consult with an electrician.
- Pay attention if you notice any warning signs of electrical failure. This includes flickering lights, buzzing sounds from the electrical system, and circuit breakers that often trip or fuses that frequently blow.
- Inspect electrical devices periodically to determine if there is wear or fraying of the wires. Do not use devices that show signs of fraying or wear.
- Contact an electrician if you smell anything burning or see smoke coming from an appliance, cord or the plug, or if you see an outlet that is discolored.
- Only use portable space heaters with a safety mechanism that shuts them off if they tip over. Do not leave them on overnight or place them next to combustible materials.
In addition to these tips, it is also imperative to practice good fire safety habits. This includes installing smoke detectors in every room of the house and testing them monthly to ensure their batteries are working. Sixty-five percent of fire deaths occur in homes without working smoke detectors. Develop an evacuation plan for the home, with family members practicing it periodically to ensure preparedness in the event of an emergency.
Electrical fires can pose a huge danger, but proper precautions and safe, appropriate reactions to combat the fire can help to minimize the risk of injury or death.
Next, read about how to put out a grease fire.
This article, originally published on Dec. 12, 2017, has been updated