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PSA: Don't mess around with electricity!


Obi Wan
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I spent yesterday helping a friend dig out from a small electrical fire in her condo. I don't know if there really is such a thing as a "small" fire in a dwelling, but it was small in the sense that it miraculously didn't spread to the whole building.

She came home to find the vent fan in the laundry room burned to a crisp, with soot all over the ceiling and melted plastic on the floor. Some of the wood in the attic was badly burned, along with the wiring. The circuit breaker had tripped, but apparently not soon enough.


From inside the attic, we could see that a 2x6 beam, fortunately not structual, was burned for about four feet. The wiring, stapled to it, was melted. In the picture below, the square pile of ash between the burned wood is the carcass of the fan.


Anyway, I cut out the burned wood, cleaned things up, and replaced the wiring appropriately, cutting the wire back to the unburned sections and using junction boxes for the connections. I also reconnected the TV/internet cable, which had been burned through.

I'm having a hard time piecing together how this happened. It was modern wiring, not prone to this kind of thing. My only thought is that the fan wasn't working, and wiring may have been damaged by a previous fire and not repaired properly. After all, I expect that this much fire would have filled the place with smoke, and that did not happen. So, a lot of this may have been old damage.

But it disturbs me when I see people making sloppy electrical repairs, figuring that it doesn't really matter. Indeed, home wiring standards are pretty conservative, and it's easy to shrug them off. But there is a reason for that. Here it is.
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Yikes- not sure "small" is the right word! The whole place could have gone up in flames.

I wonder if the vent fan (which I assume she had left running) overheated, then slowly burned itself up before the breaker cut off. The fan was probably sucking smoke up into the attic, with a few sparks to add excitement. Lots of sparks on raw old wood = fire.

Wow - sure glad it didn't spread farther. Does it look like the fire somehow "put itself out"?
Yikes! Lucky she didn't lose her whole house and all her belongings. That's scary!
Good thought about the lightning, but there has been none recently. No signs of rodents, thank heavens, although mouse and rat invasions are not uncommon here. And, yes, I think it is a near miracle that the fire didn't spread.

I suspect that the wiring had already been damaged, or the fan was defective, as the fan wasn't working before this happened. I can imagine someone leaving the switch on, since it seemed to be dead, and then.....