In the past couple of weeks, fire units have responded to a number of fire incidents, but there are two that I want to focus on.
The first fire occurred in a crawl space involving a hot water heater. The second fire occurred in an attic.
The attic and the crawl space are, in most cases, the highest and lowest spaces in the home. Both of these spaces are rarely visited by homeowners or occupants, unless access is easy, and even then, most people avoid these two spaces.
With the exception of a lightning strike to a roof, most attic and crawl space fires start from the same heat source: electricity.
The electrical issue could be a wide variety of issues, from a malfunction to a properly operating piece of electrical equipment. The difficulty is that wires run from the crawl space to the attic and everywhere in between.
Most people see electricity as something that is just there, not giving a great deal of thought to something that is electrically-powered possibly breaking down, or the wiring system itself becoming compromised.
What to do? First of all, most crawl spaces and attics are not protected by sprinkler systems or monitored by smoke alarms. In other words, a fire will smolder or burn for an extended period of time before being detected by someone inside or outside of the home. It is necessary that all homeowners do an inspection of their attic or crawl space periodically. You should look for anything that does not look normal, based upon other inspections. You may notice that a piece of equipment is not working as efficiently or may be making an unusual noise, or something may not be working altogether. Whatever the case, if you can track a problem back to a piece of equipment, then you may need to turn the power off to that item at the breaker box.
Electrical wires run throughout your home hidden from plain sight in most cases. It is only when something stops working that you know that there is a problem. Unfortunately, some problems first present themselves by causing a fire. As your home ages, so does the entire electrical system, from the breaker box to the wiring to the components powered by electricity.
I cannot stress enough that you must exercise tremendous caution when investigating an electrical problem in your home. It is imperative that you turn the breaker off to whatever you are working on, but even when you think that the power is off, you must test it to make sure. To test for electricity, you can use a device that simply indicates electricity or you can use a voltmeter. Another way to test an outlet is to plug something into it, making sure that there is no power present.
Assuming that power is off without testing to make sure might be a deadly mistake. If you are uncertain about what you are doing, then you should call someone who understands electricity, including an electrician.
Fires in the crawl space or attic occur infrequently, so little is said about them. It is important to remember that fires in these spaces will go undetected, mostly because no one lives in either space, and both spaces are infrequently visited. Keeping the clutter under control, mainly in your attic, is important. Keep combustibles away from heat sources, wherever possible.
If it has been a while since you went there, go look under your house and up in your attic, beginning what should become routine inspections.
Side note: Watch out for children who may be out on Halloween. Also, moms and dads, be sure to check whatever your children bring home in their bags or baskets.