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Simple steps stop electrical fires  Smart Choices Archive

Simple steps stop electrical fires

Protect children and pets from shocks or starting an electrical fire.


There is a home fire reported every 2 minutes in the United States, destroying valuable property and injuring and killing people. These fires may be caused by many things—including cooking accidents and smoking—but there’s one leading cause you can easily do something about.

According to, a program of the Energy Education Council, the electrical devices, appliances, and wiring in your home are a major cause of fires Electrical fires are particularly destructive and deadly, too, because they burn throughout the electrical system in a home, quickly engulfing it in flames.

That’s a scary thought—but fortunately there are simple, preventive steps you can take:

Water + electrical fire = shock. Water and electricity don’t mix; water conducts electricity and can cause you to get a bad shock. Be sure you have a fire extinguisher on hand that’s specially approved for electrical fires.

Don’t ignore sparks, shocks, and flickering lights. If electronic devices spark, you regularly experience shocks or the lights flicker when you plug in electronics, you have an electrical problem. Contact a qualified electrician for an inspection—especially if you’ve never had one or you live in an older home.

Pay attention to switch plates and outlet covers. If you notice discoloration, or if the plates or covers feel warm, immediately shut off whatever is plugged in or turned on and contact an electrician to replace the failing plate or cover.

Invest in AFCI. Most electric fires are caused by short circuits, so talk to an electrician about Arc Fault Circuit Interrupters (AFCIs). AFCIs are a special type of circuit breaker that detects dangerous situations and shuts the power off in time to prevent fire.

Don’t abuse extension cords. They are only for temporary use—not as a replacement for wiring where it’s needed—and plugging too many electronics into them can start a fire.

Mend wear and tear. Keep electronics, appliances, and cords in tip-top shape: if something is damaged, repair or replace it. That goes for worn, cracked, or frayed cords and power plugs that have the third grounding pin removed, too.

Take care with cords. Never place one under a rug or in a high-traffic area, and don’t tack them to the wall.

Teach your children well. They—and pets—need to understand that outlets, cords, and plugs are not toys.

Know what you’re really nailing. If you’re hanging pictures or doing some wall or ceiling restoration, be careful where you nail. A punctured wire could shock you immediately or cause a fire in weeks, months, or years. It’s best to get an electronic stud finder that can help you locate wires and avoid them.

Safe Electricity also has these special warnings about light fixtures and light bulbs, major culprits in electrical fires:

Beware what lurks in closets and storage areas. Light bulbs—especially halogens, which run hotter than any other bulb—can generate enough heat to start fires, so keep clothing, boxes, and stored goods 12 inches away from surface mounted lighting and 6 inches from other types of lighting. (Be sure to use covered light bulbs in these areas, too.)

Keep it cool. Wherever you can, use LED or CFL bulbs, which give off less heat and last longer than incandescents.

Replace bulbs right. Turn off the lamp or light before you replace a burned-out bulb, and be sure you seat the new bulb nice and tight in the socket. Also, make sure the new bulb isn’t a higher wattage than the lamp or outlet is rated for.

Finally, Safe Electricity also reminds us how vital it is to have a good fire plan, with two ways to exit your home and a designated meeting place. Fire Prevention Week is also a great time to check your smoke alarms and batteries!



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