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Feb. 4, 2023

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Energy Adviser: Take steps to prevent electrical fires

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Electricity animates much of our personal lives and our communities, but sometimes when something’s so convenient and beneficial it can be easy to forget how dangerous it is.

Electrical hazards are particularly prominent in winter. Those hazards can lead to tragic ends if they’re not caught early.

About 51,000 home fires are caused by electricity every year, according to the Electrical Safety Foundation International. Nearly a third of those fires occur between November and February, reports the National Fire Protection Association.

Safety should be the primary concern when using electricity. Electrical fires can start quickly and be difficult to stop.

This is especially true in newer homes because modern building materials are much more flammable than older homes. According to Underwriters Laboratories, a person has just three minutes or less to escape a house fire in a modern home, 30 years ago they had up to 17 minutes.

“Whether it’s seasonal amenities like space heaters and electric blankets or year-round staples like extension cords or cooking appliances, electrical hazards are all over our homes,” said Clark Public Utilities Safety Manager Justin Zucconi. “Anything electric needs to be treated with caution and overseen with a watchful eye.”

Space heaters are an all-too-common source of home fires. People often forget that space heaters must be plugged directly into a wall outlet and sit on a hard surface with at least 3 feet of space from anything flammable. They should never be left on while unattended.

Frayed and/or cracked electrical cords are also a serious hazard. Exposed wires can easily start a fire. Cords are easily damaged. They should never be run through doorways, hidden under rugs or behind furniture that easily moves.

Perform an occasional electrical hazard survey around your home. Don’t expect new appliances to be any safer than older ones. Everything electronic is a potential hazard and should be treated that way.

If you find a damaged cord, have it repaired by a professional or bring it to one of the many free community repair events hosted around Clark County. If appliances get hot or emit a strange odor while in use, stop using them immediately.

Watch for cords that are running places they shouldn’t. Replace loose electrical outlets.

Different appliances require varying amounts of power. Overloading a circuit, especially with a power strip or multi-connection outlet, is easier than you might think.

“Overloaded outlets can easily catch fire or cause a fire somewhere along the circuit,” Zucconi said. “Play it safe and use multiple outlets when you need several connections.”

Whenever you use an extension cord, make sure it’s rated to handle the power demands of the device you’re connecting it to. If the cord melts, discolors or smells while in use, stop using it immediately and replace it.

Practice good electrical hazard hygiene by keeping electronics and cords beyond the reach of pets and small children. It’s never too early to teach children age-appropriate lessons about the dangers of electricity and mishandling electronics.

No matter how safe we are, accidents still happen. That’s why every home should be equipped with working smoke alarms and at least one fire extinguisher designed to combat electric fires.


Energy Adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.

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