Electrical mishaps that can cause fire

Wednesday October 15 2014

Most of the fire cases reported at the Police

Most of the fire cases reported at the Police Fire Department are as a result of short circuits. However, these fires can be avoided by takes some precautions. photos by Abubaker Lubowa. 

By Joseph Kato

Electrical fires are some of the common home accidents that can be avoided if you take some precautions.

Nowadays, most homes in urban centres and a few in rural areas use electricity mostly for lighting while others use it for domestic functions such as cooking, ironing and entertainment, among others. However, while having electricity in your home is a good thing; it can also be a time bomb if not handled with care.
A case in point was the fire that gutted a boys’ dormitory at Kibuli Secondary School.
It is alleged that it was triggered off by an electrical short circuit. Luckily enough, no scholar was reported injured in the inferno since all the students were in class for night preps while others had gone for prayers.
However, nothing was rescued from the gutted hostel. More than 200 students lost their belongings including mattresses, blankets, books, jerry cans, basins and many others. Hajj Ibrahim Matovu, the headmaster of Kibuli says the fire was sparked by a short circuit.

CAUSES OF ELECTRICAL FIRES

In Kampala, police registered 11 cases of electricity fires in June and these were the fewest cases, according to the director of the Police Fire Department, Joseph Mugisa.
He says 10 cases resulted from short circuits and one was as a result of a heater that was left in an electric power supplier.
He explains that a short circuit is an interruption of power flow that occurs when the live current wire gets in contact with a neutral wire (positive and negative). “A short circuit can also be caused by a low resistant connection that occurs between two points in an electric circuit”.
Mugisa adds: “Leaving or forgetting heat generating electric appliances such as coils, flat irons and electric kettles in an electric power provider can lead to a fire. The fire can also result from putting heat producing applications near burning or melting items like paper, plastic utensils and wooden furniture”
In some cases, the fire can result from faulty plugs or plugging many electric appliances into one power outlet with the help of an extension cable. Doing metal fabrication or welding can also cause electricity fire, especially when the sparks fall on papers or cloth.
The director of the Fire Department further notes that using electric appliances which do not have thermostats to regulate heat puts the user at a risk of electrocution or burning of the house.
“Live current wire falling on roof tops cause power flow interruption that may also lead to a fire. Tapping or stealing electricity from live electric poles or power suppliers like transformers including worn-out power insulators, old cables or sockets can all trigger electricity fire” Mugisa says.
Martin Stokes, the managing director Fire Masters, says electrical fires can result from using counterfeit electrical gadgets like sockets, cables or circuit breakers.
In some cases, electric fires may be caused by poor wiring by unqualified electricians using fake power supply units like circuit breakers.
Stokes adds that electric fires can be caused by power surges, which may be triggered by the operation of high-power electrical devices like elevators, air conditioners, and refrigerators.
“Such high-powered equipment have components like the compressor and motor which require a lot of power when switching them on or turning them off. This switching may create sudden brief demands for high power supply which can upset the steady voltage flow in the electrical system. Lighting is also among the common source of power surge,” he explains.
“System overload such as connecting many appliances that work on high power in the same socket can cause electrical fires. Loose connections like not tightening the screws in power providing equipment like socket, circuit breakers or cables have also been associated with causing electricity fires,” says Stokes.
The managing director also explains that electricity fire can also be caused by short circuits. “Short circuit can be caused by a sudden draw of amperage that occurs when electric outlets in a home tap into fast moving electrical stream and divert some of the electric to whatever is plugged into them.”
According to Henry Rugamba, head of communications and corporate affairs at Umeme, electricity fires are mainly caused by illegal connections by unapproved electricians popularly known as Kamyufu. “The practice is very common in slum areas and parts of eastern Uganda especially Iganga and Mbale districts.”
In some cases, electricity fire incidents can be caused by overheating that may result from using cheap power suppliers like sockets, cables or fake electric appliances.
Rugamba says at Umeme, they do abrupt inspection in slums to arrest illegally connected power users and they fine such people or present them to courts of law.

ADVICE TO ELECTRICITY USERS

The director of the Police Fire Department, Joseph Mugisa, advises the public to use trained and qualified electricians for safe power connections. “It is also important to have a fuse in the electric power providers or a circuit breaker to avoid direct flow of electricity current. The power suppliers must be regularly checked.
He adds that people should avoid leaving heat generating appliances on electric power suppliers. It is also important to use electric appliances that have a thermostat to regulate heat.
Mugisa also discourages the public to avoid constructing under power lines and parents should also desist from letting children use heat generating appliances without any supervision. He also advises people to stop tapping or stealing electricity because it puts their life at risk.
Martin Stokes, the managing director Fire Masters, advises people to use electrical gadgets or appliances that have certified symbols like British Standard (BS), Virtual Private Servers (VPS) and Europe (EU) or approved by Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS). He also encourages the public to regularly fumigate homes because rats and other insects like cockroaches can destroy insulators thus exposing the positive and negative wires which can cause an electrical circuit. “It is also vital to check insulators after a short period of time like every after two months.”
Henry Rugamba, head of communications and corporate affairs at Umeme, appeals to the public to report illegal connections in their areas and also report cases of old electric poles or fallen live wires. “They should also stop using cheap electric power supply equipment because these can easily lead to short curcuits.”

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TIPS TO PREVENT ELECTRICITY FIRE

Inspect your home power connection regularly and use experienced personnel in home electrical wiring, plumbing (gas), heating, and air conditioning to ensure that it is thoroughly fixed.
Check appliances like flat irons, coils, cookers, stoves, kettle and oven, especially watching for grease accumulation.
Be very careful with heaters like cookers, coils and flat irons among others, by keeping flammable materials like curtains at a safe distance from portable heaters.
Never use extension cables for air conditioners because an overheated cord is like an out-of-control electric heater.
Never store flammable liquids like gasoline near power providing gadgets and heat generating appliances. Be very careful in any situation where you use an extension cord for extended periods of time. Use a high quality cable with a sufficient rating for the intended purpose.
“Stay in the kitchen when using the cooker socket because it is easy to leave it on and the more it gets heated, the easier it is for it to cause an electrical fire because of the heat it produces. You should also use certified electrical gadgets and price should never be your major concern but mind about the quality of the gadget,” the director of the fire department, Joseph Mugisa advises.

What to do in case of a fire
Awareness. Raise an alarm to inform everyone in the house to leave.
Leave the house. Sock a towel in water and cover it on your head and crawl out of the house. This is done because a towel cannot easily catch fire when wet and the reason for crawling is because electrical fire comes from above.
Call for help. When you are out of the house, call for assistance from a nearby police station or fire.
Save your life. Do not return to the house in a bid to save property because life is better than property. Stay outside until the fire has been completely put off.

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