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How Do Electrical Fires Start?

How Do Electrical Fires Start?

With technology advancing at such a rapid pace, we seldom stop to consider the dangers of our modern way of life. Take a brief moment and think about your home. How many cords do you have plugged into outlets? How many appliances run on electricity every day? With so much of our life being powered by the electric grid, it’s easy to forget that these devices we take for granted can actually cause us harm.

Did you know that there are over 50,000 electrical fires each year, causing nearly 500 deaths? To protect your family and property from this scale of devastation, it is paramount to understand how electrical fires start and what you can do to prevent them.

What Is An Electrical Fire?

When the electrical components of equipment fail or malfunction, it can cause a fire. This type of fire is known as an Electrical Fire.

Typically, electrical fires begin in cables, wires, circuit breakers, or deep within the inner workings of electrical components. They can occur when equipment becomes too hot and causes a spark close to combustible material or if an electrical panel is overloaded.

When we see fire, our first impulse is to throw water on it. But with electrical fires, this can actually make the fire spread more rapidly and put people close by at risk of electrocution. To extinguish this electrical fire, a dry chemical solution should be used.

The more you understand about this type of fire, the better you can prevent and prepare.

Common Causes of Electrical Fires

To help you take necessary preventative actions within your home, here are some of the most common causes of electrical fires.

Old Electrical Wiring

Do you live in a beautiful old home that was built more than 20 years ago? While older homes have many incredible perks, electrical capacity is not one of them.

Older wiring systems were not built to withstand the massive amount of electricity we use today in the home. Think about how many devices, speakers, gaming consoles, and computers we have plugged in at all times! If your older home still has its original electrical system, there’s a chance that the wires are overburdened. As such, they create excess heat and can put your home at risk of an electrical fire.

Close Up Of Interlocking Wires

Extension Cords

If you wander through your home, there’s a good chance you see at least a few extension cords plugged into wall outlets. While these handy tools can be used to simplify life when you need them, we often rely on them to do too much work.

Extension cords were originally designed to be a temporary measure, not a permanent one. Appliances are built to be plugged directly into wall outlets. If these cords are left plugged in constantly and are expected to power multiple devices simultaneously, they can cause a fire.

Space Heaters

You may have heard of someone leaving a space heater on overnight and waking up to flames in their bedroom. These tools, while helpful in drafty homes during colder months, should never be left unattended or left on for long durations of time. They can easily light a fire on surrounding flammable material.

Light Fixtures

Lamps and light bulbs can cause electrical fires for a number of reasons. First, they can heat nearby materials, like a cloth placed over the lampshade or a nearby curtain, and start a fire.

What makes light fixtures really dangerous, though, is when they are used with incorrect wattage. If the light bulb you choose has too high a wattage, this could lead to overheating and cause a fire.

Electrical Fire Prevention Tips

While the threat of electrical fire is genuine, there are a few easy adjustments you can make in your home that can drastically reduce risk. Here are a few.

  • If you live in an old home, update your electrical wiring! Consult a professional. It’s worth the investment.
  • Never leave extension cords plugged in for long. If you need more outlets, have an electrician install them.
  • Always make sure the light bulbs you use are compatible with your lighting fixtures. This information should be listed on the devices themselves!
  • Keep lamps and space heaters far away from flammable materials. Never leave a space heater running unattended.
  • To be extra safe, it’s never a bad idea to unplug appliances when they’re not in use.

Frequently Asked Questions

How Easy Is It for an Electrical Fire To Start?

Electrical fires ignite pretty easily for several reasons in and around the home. Overheating of electric devices, faulty or loose wiring, poor insulation, or frayed cords can happen at any moment if the electricity in the home isn’t maintained correctly.

How Long Does It Take for an Electrical Fire To Start?

An electrical fire can start slowly or happen instantly, with the source sparking in 2 minutes or lurking for 2 years. There’s no way to tell the time it will take, but any signs, such as a persistent burning smell, tripped breakers, or discolored outlets, should be treated as warnings of imminent danger and acted upon immediately.

How Quickly Does an Electrical Fire Spread?

Regardless of how the fire started, a small flame can engulf an entire home in anywhere from 30 seconds to five minutes. It will take longer for fires in a commercial building to spread due to their increase in size.


With these helpful tips, you should be able to take basic steps to ensure your home will be safe from electrical fires.

If you experience a fire and need help with the aftermath, All Dry USA has you covered. With over a decade of experience in the business, we have the expert fire damage repair services you need. Reach out today!

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