Fires are among the leading
causes of accidental death in the United States. According to
statistics from the National Fire Protection Association, nearly
one-third of an average 406,700 residential fires per year are
related to electrical distribution or appliances and equipment.
Electrical fires cause about 860 deaths, 4,875 injuries and nearly
$1.3 billion in property damage each year.
"Safe Electricity wants
consumers to be aware of electrical hazards and know that there are
measures you can take to prevent electrical fires," says Molly Hall,
director of the Safe Electricity program. "A simple check of
electrical cords and outlets can save lives."
Many avoidable fires can be
traced to poor maintenance and misuse of electrical appliances and
electric cords. Don't place cords underneath rugs and furniture and
do not run cords behind baseboards, curtains and in high-traffic
areas. Damaged, abused or worn extension cords can pose a major fire
"This October, begin a habit to
regularly inspect all appliances, cords and plugs," suggests Hall.
"If you discover a frayed cord or loose prongs on a plug,
discontinue use until replaced or repairs can be made."
Some suggested home appliance
safety checks and measures to prevent shocks, burns and fires
* If an appliance has a
three-prong plug, use it only in a three-slot outlet. Never remove
the grounding pin or force it to fit into a two-slot outlet or
* Replace any appliance or tool
if it causes even small electrical shocks, overheats, shorts out, or
gives off smoke or sparks.
* Never use light bulbs with
wattage that is too high for the fixture.
* Allow air space around the TV
to prevent overheating. The same applies to plug-in radios,
computers, stereo sets, powerful lamps and other electrical
* Be sure all electrical
equipment bears the Underwriters Laboratories label: UL. In many
older homes, the capacity of the wiring system has not kept pace
with today's modern appliances and increased electrical usage.
"Overloaded electrical systems
can be a dangerous prelude to fire," warns Hall. "Dimming lights
when an appliance goes on, a shrinking TV picture, slow-heating
appliances or fuses blowing frequently are signals of overloaded
Safe Electricity suggests that
if you notice any of these warning signals to call a qualified
electrician to get expert help.
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Additionally, to prevent
overloading, avoid using extension cords on a permanent basis and
never plug more than two home appliances into an outlet at once. Use
only outlets designed to handle multiple plugs. Give special
consideration to appliances that use 1,000 or more watts, such as
refrigerators, hot plates, irons, microwave ovens, dishwashers,
heaters and air conditioners. Avoid plugging them into the same
outlet or circuit. Do not exceed 1,500 watts for each outlet or
circuit. If a circuit breaker trips or a fuse blows frequently,
immediately cut down on the number of appliances on that line.
Electrical wiring defects are a
major cause of residential blazes. Check periodically for loose wall
receptacles, loose wires or loose lighting fixtures. Listen for
popping or sizzling sounds behind walls. Immediately shut off, then
professionally replace light switches that are hot to the touch and
lights that spark and flicker.
The majority of fires caused by
electrical wiring flaws occur in the bedroom. For this reason, Safe
Electricity encourages homeowners to have Arc Fault Circuit
Interrupter outlets installed in all bedrooms. The AFCI is a
relatively new technology designed to address electrical fire
hazards. Most local codes now require these outlets in new
"Finally, having a working
smoke alarm dramatically increases your chances of surviving a
fire," reminds Hall, "Replace the batteries twice a year and
remember to practice a home escape plan frequently with your
For more fire prevention
Electricity is a statewide electrical safety public awareness
program created by a coalition of more than three dozen
organizations, including the University of Illinois, electric
utility companies and electric cooperatives from across the state.
All are members of the Illinois Electric Council, a not-for-profit
organization dedicated to promoting electric safety and efficiency.
[University of Illinois news release]