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#148563 - 04/20/06 08:28 AM Fatal fire due to overloaded outlet.
rad74ss Offline
Member

Registered: 04/19/04
Posts: 154
Loc: Pryor, OK USA
Hectorville - Fire investigators say they believe an electrical overload caused a fire that killed two and injured two others Tuesday morning near Hectorville.

45-year-old Payne Rowen and his 8-year-old son Nikolas were killed when the fire ripped through their home. Rowen's wife, Joy, and their 3-year-old son, Alex, were injured. Joy Rowen was released from a Tulsa hospital Wednesday while Alex remains in the hospital, but is getting better.

State fire officials now say it appears the fire started in an area where several computers were plugged in, overloading the circuit, which in turn caused a short that may have caught the walls or carpet on fire.

Fire crews from several surrounding areas battled the fire, but their efforts were hampered because the nearest hydrant was nearly a half mile away.

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#148564 - 04/20/06 02:19 PM Re: Fatal fire due to overloaded outlet.
BigJohn Offline
Member

Registered: 03/06/04
Posts: 352
Loc: Boston, MA
This is certainly a very sad story, but I have to wonder how accurate the official conclusion is. There are many receptalces overloaded every day that don't cause fires; they just trigger the OCPD.

I know that both my computer and monitor combined pull little more than an amp. It would take an awful lot of computers to overload even a 15A circuit. Maybe the fire investigators simply saw a bunch of daisy-chained power-strips amd assumed this to be the culpret without ever thinking about the actual loads.

I'd dare to guess that whatever the "short" was that caused the fire, was a fault with the wiring and may well have occured with nothing plugged into the receptacle at all.

-John

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#148565 - 04/20/06 02:25 PM Re: Fatal fire due to overloaded outlet.
mahlere Offline
Member

Registered: 11/17/05
Posts: 514
Loc: New Jersey
when they can't determine the actual cause of a fire, the electrical system is an easy and believable scapegoat.

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#148566 - 04/20/06 05:28 PM Re: Fatal fire due to overloaded outlet.
jdadamo Offline
Member

Registered: 11/10/04
Posts: 37
Loc: Calgary, AB, Canada
I try be a "read only" member because I am not a sparky but I am a computer scientist which might apply in this case so I figure I'll throw in my two cents.

There are some beyond cheap computer power supplies that have been known to have spectacular failures. It wouldn't surprise me if it was ultimately related to something like that.

As to the load, I agree with the post above. My reason is purely from experience...now it's not great, but at work we've been known to have upwards of 25 computer towers (and a couple monitors with KVM switches) on a single 15A circuit. No idea as to how loaded it really is but it holds up fine.

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#148567 - 04/20/06 10:45 PM Re: Fatal fire due to overloaded outlet.
Scott35 Offline

Broom Pusher and
Member

Registered: 10/19/00
Posts: 2724
Loc: Anaheim, CA. USA
Got a little story to tell; mostly as an "FYI", but this may have been the cause of the fire...

I recently experienced a "Who'da thunk it?" (read: Who Would Have Known"), involving the failure of a typical 100 Volt Low Wattage Neon Indicator Lamp, with a resulting fire.

We have an O-Scale Caboose, which has a Digital LED Clock in it, along with several of the previously mentioned Neon Indicator Lamps - mounted inside the Caboose near windows.

One night a Lamp failed - and thank God My Wife and I were in the Computer Room when this occurred!!!
It failed by first creating a very subtle "60 Hz Hum" for about 10 seconds, followed by a "Snap". Right after the snap, a small flame popped up, which increased rapidly (burning the Plastic Housing of the Caboose).

It took me about 15 seconds to get to the Caboose after the flame began, and even by that time, the Caboose was well on it's way to total destruction.

If we had not been in the Computer Room at that time, things may have been tragic.

Not exactly sure what led to the fire. The Lamp had an internal Resistor which may have failed, causing either an Arc Fault across the Resistor (making the Resistor responsible for the fire), or the Resistor Arc Faulted, then melted to create a much lower Resistance, leading to a rapid increase in Current across the Lamp.

Tried to perform "Forensic Analysis" on the Lamp, but it disintegrated at the first touch.

Maybe the victims of the Fire had used a Plug Strip, which contained a Neon Indicator Lamp in the Toggle Switch; and this Lamp failed - resulting in fire...???

The Caboose-Clock incident sure impacted my Wife and Me, whereas previously we never thought they contained such disasterous potential!

Gave me a HUGE HEADS-UP!!!

Pass it on!!!

BTW, the Video Adapter failure which took place a few years ago, may be one culprite (I posted images + story about this in one of the "Lower" Forums - either the Computers area, or the Electrical Theory area).

May also have been from a SMPS with "A Very High Sucks Value", so say it lightly.

Really cannot believe an overloaded Branch Circuit would do this - or any Branch Circuit; unless:

  • Arc Fault broke out on the Branch Circuit,
  • The Panelboard was FPE or Zinsco, with a heavilly loaded 15 Amp Branch Circuit,
  • House had Edison Based Fuses - which someone used the "High Capacity Coin" remedy, to correct a frequently failing Fuse "Problem",
  • Someone decided to perform some "DIY" wiring for the Computer Receptacles, using inadequate wiring methods - such as 18-2 speaker wire, connected to heavy loads,
  • Extremely worn out Receptacle(s) and/or loose terminations across "Series Wiring" where the circuitry is made up via the terminal screws of the Receptacle - and heavy loads are connected on load side of these terminations.


Scott35
_________________________
Scott " 35 " Thompson
Just Say NO To Green Eggs And Ham!

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#148568 - 04/21/06 06:00 AM Re: Fatal fire due to overloaded outlet.
festus Offline
Member

Registered: 11/30/03
Posts: 43
Loc: fairfax Va USA
I have had two service calls recently that show how fires can start.
First was a Sunday afternoon call that a fused disconnect had caught on fire. I got to the home and the homeowner did have a problem. The disconnect had actually burnt all the plastic insulator material, and the homeowner had been home and put the fire out with a powder fire extinguisher, and called the fire dept. They checked the attic and declared the home safe to occupy after they turned off the 240 V breakers.
The problem was that the load lug on one leg was loose, and the bad connection caused it to heat up, and after time the connection became a resistor and eventually got so hot that it melted the insulation and caused it to burn. I replaced the disconnect with a load center with the correct breaker, after checking the furnace for a short.The bad connection never blew the fuse or tripped the breaker. This was located in a closet in his living room. He almost lost his home and maybe his life.
The second was a service call to a home where the residents went to evening church services and returned to find that the bathroom lights and some receptacles were not working. I went to the panel and found a tripped breaker and a dead short on the circuit. I found the problem in the bathroom ceiling fan. Someone had left the old fan running and it caught on fire. It had melted and dropped burning drips all over the sink and burnt holes in the rug. The only thing that stopped it was the insulation burnt on about a foot of the romex and it fused together and tripped the breaker. I learned in apprenticeship school that a fan motor bearings will start to fail slowly and create heat and eventually create so much resistance and heat that they will catch on fire without the breaker tripping. The fan was melted toast, the fan housing was burnt, the insulation on top had melted, the joist was scorched and charred , the ceiling has smoke stains, and the attic stunk. Nobody smelled the fire in the home as the attic acted as a chimney and drew the smoke up and out the vents.
These poor people could have come home to ashes instead of a house, or worse still, they could have died in their sleep.

We have to be careful and always make good connections, and I tell my customers to replace any bathroom fan that is slow, makes noise, or is old to replace it asap. Attic fans also should be replaced after a few years. Don't wait till they fail, or it may be too late.

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