Preventing electric fires during the holidays

HOUGHTON — During the winter months, fire departments see an increase of house fires often times causing serious injury or worse. That’s generally attributed to residents trying to battle the cold temperatures with additional heating sources. ABC 10’s Keweenaw Bureau Reporter Lee Snitz has some tips on staying safe this winter.

The Christmas tree is found in most American homes this time of year with twinkling lights, sometimes candy canes, and an assortment of ornaments, but it has also been known to devastate a family’s holiday season in some cases.

“Too many lights on one circuit creates a problem with the circuit itself and then you have the house fire,” said Bill Sheetz, an electrician with WLS Electric. “The breaker systems on the electrical services are getting much better at stopping overloads.”

Energy efficient LED lights and other advancements in technology may be showing a decline in tree related house fires, but residents should be aware that there are plenty of other hazards in their home.

“Electric space heaters are temporary supplementary heat which is not permanent and most people use it as a permanent source of heat and they also overload the circuits and typically cause a lot of house fires.”

Space heaters are not necessarily a hazard themselves, but they do use a lot of electricity, and if they’re running for a extended period of time- they can create heat in the wiring of a home and that can cause an electrical fire if the wiring is outdated or inadequate. If your running a space heater in your home or business its a good idea to unplug everything else that is using that circuit. This will help to prevent an overload. And a big No No is replacing blown fuses or circuit breakers with one that is larger than specified.

“Typically when were talking about fuses, were talking about services that are over 40 or 50 years old,” said Sheetz. “They have a twist in fuse and a lot of people blow the fuse so they go to the local hardware store and the guy gives you a 30 amp fuse where you should have a 15 amp fuse. The reason behind the 15 amp fuse is to protect the wire behind the wall. So when you put the larger fuse in you create a lot of heat on the wire behind the wall that you don’t see until the fire department shows up at your house.”

Another precaution that is essential is checking the alert systems in your home.

“Most people if they have older homes, they have battery smoke detectors which are fine as long as you check them regularly. We go into homes all the time and they’re just not working. And the reason they’re not working is becasue the battery is dead. It looks good on the wall ceiling but it doesn’t work if the battery isn’t working for you.”

When buying batteries for those gifts that are labeled with the all too familiar phrase “Batteries Not Included”,  it’s a good idea to pick up a couple of extra 9 volts and replace what’s currently in your smoke detector. It could save lives if the unthinkable were to occur.

“The main thing is if your breaker or your circuit, anything pops in your home, trips or stops working. Don’t go to your local hardware store and ask for help. Please call a qualified electrician because that’s where we have a lot of problems. People will introduce things that may work, but aren’t correct.”