Electrical fires are fires that originate from issues within electrical systems, equipment, or devices. These fires arise when electrical components experience overheating, electrical arcing, or short circuits, which can, in turn, ignite nearby materials like insulation, wiring, or flammable substances.
How do they occur?
One primary factor contributing to electrical fires is overloading circuits, a scenario in which an excessive number of electrical devices or appliances are connected to a single circuit, resulting in an excessive current flow that overheats the wires and potentially leads to a fire hazard.
Additionally, faulty wiring poses a substantial risk, particularly in cases of aged or damaged wiring with inadequate insulation or improper installation. Wiring that is exposed, frayed, or corroded can also be very dangerous. Electrical equipment malfunctions, such as defective switches, outlets, or appliances, can also be triggers for fires, highlighting the importance of regular maintenance and inspection of electrical systems to prevent these hazardous incidents.
How to identify an electrical fire?
Identifying an electrical fire is crucial for ensuring safety in your home or workplace. There are several key signs to watch for. First and foremost, look for any unusual smell, often described as a burning or melting smell, which may indicate overheating or melting of electrical components. Many people say an electrical fire can emit a fishy scent. This typically means it has just started. The fish odour is caused by electrical components overheating that haven’t begun to burn up. Their heat-resistant chemical coatings can also release a fishy smell when burned.
Also keep an eye out for sparks or flashes of light coming from electrical outlets or appliances, as these can be clear indicators of an electrical fire. If you hear crackling or buzzing sounds near electrical outlets or wiring, it could suggest a potential fire hazard.
How to deal with electrical fires?
Dealing with these fires requires a cautious and systematic approach to ensure safety.
Stay Calm: The first and most crucial step is to remain calm. Panic can lead to hasty decisions that may worsen the situation.
Cut the Power: Quickly locate the power source and shut it off. This can be done by switching off the circuit breaker or unplugging the affected appliance. Cutting the power supply is essential to prevent further electrical flow to the fire.
Use a Fire Extinguisher: If the fire is small and contained, you can attempt to extinguish it using the correct fire extinguisher, which is designed for electrical fires. Ensure you know how to use the extinguisher properly, following the PASS (Pull, Aim, Squeeze, Sweep) technique. For types of fire extinguishers view lower down in this post.
DO NOT Use Water: Never use a standard water fire extinguisher to put out an electrical fire. Water conducts electricity and can lead to electrical shock or the spread of a fire.
Evacuate Safely: If the fire grows beyond your control, or if you are unsure about how to handle it, prioritise your safety and evacuate the premises. Close doors behind you to contain the fire and prevent its spread. Call the fire service immediately from a safe distance.
Wait for Professionals: Even if you believe you have extinguished the fire, it’s essential to wait for the fire department to arrive and confirm that it is safe. Electrical fires can reignite, and professionals have the necessary tools and expertise to handle them.
Remember, safety should always be the top priority when dealing with electrical fires. If in doubt, evacuate and call the professionals. It’s better to be cautious and let trained firefighters handle the situation.
Which fire extinguishers can fight electrical fires?
Electrical fires as we have explained are very dangerous. This means they are more difficult to contain and extinguish. Electrical fires are not their own fire classification which also makes them more difficult to handle. They however can be fought and extinguished with these extinguishers:
Dry Powder – Dry Powder fire extinguishers are very versatile and a main staple in a lot of fire safety setups. These fire extinguishers can be used on Class A, Class B, Class C and Electrical fires making them the most versatile fire extinguisher on the market. Electrical fires aren’t their own class of fire because they are seen as more a form of ignition than fuel. But when Electricity is present, Water must not be used.
CO2 – CO2 fire extinguishers are perfect for fighting Class B fires and Electrical fires. Its properties allow it not to damage electrical equipment so therefore makes it a great choice for situations where electrical fires are a risk. CO2 extinguishers have a B fire rating but can also combat electrical fires.
Electrical fires aren’t their own class of fire because they are seen as more a form of ignition than fuel. CO2 extinguishers are good as they do not leave a harmful residue behind, this is what makes them desirable compared to a lot of the other extinguishers.
To find out more about these types of extinguishers and all the other types of extinguishers, check out our explanation of all the types HERE.
In conclusion, electrical fires can be incredibly dangerous and potentially life-threatening situations that can arise from various sources, such as faulty wiring, overloaded circuits, or damaged appliances. Understanding the causes and being prepared to deal with these fires is crucial for ensuring the safety of yourself and those around you.
By understanding the causes of electrical fires and knowing how to respond effectively, you can significantly reduce the potential harm they pose. Fire safety is a shared responsibility, and being prepared can make all the difference in preventing damage, injuries, and even fatalities.