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How Should I Respond to an Electrical Fire?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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An electrical fire can start small, but spread quickly, especially if the fire is located inside a socket, meaning that the fire can travel through the wall before you are aware of it. These fires also require special measures, because of the unique way in which the fire starts. The first step in dealing with an electrical fire is, of course, prevention, but in the instance that a fire starts in your home or workplace, you should be prepared to take proper measures. As with any fire, if it is growing quickly or looks unsafe, evacuate immediately with household pets and children; leave your belongings behind and never re-enter any type of burning structure until a fire crew says it is safe to do so.

If an electrical fire starts, you should immediately turn off power to the circuit and the rest of the structure. The easiest way to do this is to access the electrical main, cutting power off entirely. Make sure that you know where your circuit box is and that it is readily accessible: never cover it or obscure the path to your circuit breaker. After you have cut power to the fire, spray it with a Class C chemical extinguisher or use baking soda to smother it. Under no circumstances should you use water, as it is a conductor and it may electrocute you. Before restoring power, have a licensed electrician inspect your wiring.

Fire prevention is important and relatively easy, and if you use common sense, you should not have to deal with an electrical fire. Start by never overloading circuits, maintaining appliances and electronics with care, and inspecting your wiring on a regular basis. Frayed or exposed wiring should be replaced to prevent the risk of fire. In addition, you should cut power to your home so that you can open and inspect outlets periodically: look for frayed wiring or singes that suggest an electrical problem. If you do not feel secure inspecting your own wiring, hire a licensed electrician to do it.

Make sure to use appliances responsibly to avoid an electrical fire, and follow directions closely. Never leave any heat producing appliance such as a stove, heater, or electric blanket on while you are out of the house, and always keep a close eye on heaters, using them at least 3 feet (1 meter) away from furniture and curtains. Check your fire detectors at least twice a year, and make sure to cut power to and investigate any appliances which start to smoke, smell strange, or run erratically.

HomeQuestionsAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a HomeQuestionsAnswered researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By lighth0se33 — On Nov 13, 2012

@StarJo – You should definitely get a fire extinguisher. Everyone should own one.

A small electrical fire can cause your entire home to go up in flames if it isn't stopped rapidly. My cousin lost her whole house because of this type of fire. Incidentally, she had no fire extinguisher, and if she had, she might have been able to stop in before it did major damage.

By Perdido — On Nov 13, 2012

I rent an old home, and I'm always worried about electrical fires starting spontaneously. I'm pretty careful with the appliances, but I'm just concerned about the old wiring in the house.

I never leave my pets inside when I'm not home. I realize that it's not feasible for everyone, especially city folks, to let their dogs out when they leave, but I live in a rural area, and I want them to have a chance to escape in case the house catches on fire.

I heard a heartbreaking story on the news not long ago about a family pet who had perished in a house fire when no one was home. That would kill me, and I don't think I'd ever get over it.

By StarJo — On Nov 12, 2012

I'm so glad I read this article. If a fire had started on my stove or in my microwave, I would have poured water on it without knowing that it could electrocute me.

I now think I need to get a fire extinguisher. I live out in the country, and response time from the fire department can be slower than in the city. I feel like I should be more prepared.

By Windchime — On May 21, 2011

Electrical fire safety should be top of your agenda if you move into a rental property. Sometimes these have very old outlets, and if fully furnished, the equipment may not be in the best shape.

I always pay for an electrician to check things over before I sign the lease. (Never had much luck getting the landlord to do that!)

By MissMuffet — On May 19, 2011

This article has given me a tremendous amount of great information, much needed after a friend just lost her home to an electrical fire.

Researching the topic made me realize how little I knew, and the first thing I did was make sure everyone in the house can locate and turn off the circuit breaker. Such a simple thing but I hadn't thought of it before.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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