Warning signs to watch out for that may cause electrical fires


CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – The State Fire Marshal’s office announced that May is Electrical Safety Month and urges everyone to follow measures to protect their property and personal safety.

Massachusetts has thousands of older homes built long before the advent of the many electrical appliances that bring convenience to our daily lives. From washers and dryers to coffee makers, stoves, refrigerators, computers and multiple computers and televisions in our homes, all drawing various voltages. How many times have you had the microwave, coffee maker and toaster oven on in the kitchen only to blow a fuse? It may be time to have a licensed electrician do an inspection to your home or business and upgrade your electric system.

According to the National Fire Protection Association, electrical malfunction is the cause of more than 45,000 fires every year across the country. Electrical fires are the second leading cause of fire deaths in Massachusetts. From 2015 – 2019, Massachusetts fire departments reported 2,751 home fires caused by electrical problems. These fires caused 27 civilian deaths, 16 civilian injuries, 72 fire service injuries and an estimated dollar loss of $38.5 million.

Chief Michael C. Newbury, president of the Fire Chiefs’ Association of Massachusetts said, “There’s no great mystery to preventing electrical fires. Don’t overload circuits or power strips; know the warning signs; and have an electrician check out your system every ten years. Call your local fire department immediately if you have warning signs such as arcs, sparks, or short circuits. Other warning signs include hearing a sizzling or buzzing sound or smelling a vague odor of something burning. Immediate attention to these signs can save lives,” he added, “Firefighters can use thermal imaging technology to see excessive heat inside the walls.”

Call a professional electrician soon if you have any of these warning signs:

  • Frequently blown fuses or tripped circuit breakers;
  • Dim or flickering lights, bulbs that wear out too fast;
  • Overheated plugs, cords or switches;
  • Shock or mild tingle – more than normal static electricity;
  • Loose outlets or unusually warm or faulty outlets or switches;
  • Permanently using power strips or extension cords;
  • Defeating the ground plug on appliances so they fit into a 2-prong outlet.

Another way to prevent electrical fires is to limit the number of devices plugged into any single outlet or circuit. Plugging too many things into a single outlet or circuit can overload them and start fires. Using extension cords is another major cause of fires. They are for temporary use only and not designed to substitute for the wall outlet. Plug all heat-producing and major appliances like space heaters, irons, toasters and air conditioners directly into the wall outlet; otherwise, the safety mechanism provided by circuit breakers and fuses is nullified. Do not link extension cords together; each connection is another possible failure point.

Heavy furniture can easily pinch an electrical cord and over time that can lead to a fire. Do not run cords underneath rugs; it is both a trip hazard and a fire hazard. Unplug appliances by grasping the plug; do not pull by the cord.

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