Electrical fires are among the most common types of domestic fire, with approximately 20,000 happening in UK homes every year1.
Of these, most are caused by electrical items (89%), with the rest being as a result of faults in electrical installations (i.e. the wiring, fusebox, lighting circuit, etc.) or through misuse of those installations.
Among the most common electrical fires are those caused by cooking appliances, laundry appliances, lighting, portable heaters and televisions.
Knowing how to put out an electrical fire is extremely useful, because it could save lives and property. Regardless of its cause, though, you should never attempt to put out a fire unless it is completely safe to do so.
Before discovering how to put out an electrical fire, it’s just as important that we know how not to put out an electrical fire.
How not to put out an electrical fire
The most important thing to remember when tackling an electrical fire is that you should never use water. Water conducts electricity, so not only will it not put out an electrical fire, it will also in all probability make it considerably worse, in two ways:
The fire will spread
Because water conducts electricity, the discharge of a water-based extinguisher would conduct the electrical current to other areas of the room, with the potential for further fires breaking out as a result.
Potential for electrocution
The combination of standing water and an electrical fire has the potential for the electrical current being transmitted to the user, with a subsequent risk of electrocution.
How to put out an electrical fire
Cut off the electricity supply
If the fire can be controlled, cutting off the electricity will prevent it from re-igniting once it has been put out, as well as reducing the risk of electrocution. If it is safe to do so, this is always the best place to start.
Cut off the oxygen
Any fire needs oxygen to survive, so if you have anything that can smother the fire (without itself catching fire in the process), that’s a good way of putting out an electrical fire. One common way of doing that is by using a flame-resistant fire blanket. Because you need to get quite close to accurately throw something over the fire, this is a method that should only be used on relatively small fires – also because you need to be sure that what you’re using is going to be big enough to cover the fire.
Use a CO2 fire extinguisher
Fire extinguishers will usually be the best means of tackling electrical fires, but it is very important that you know which to use. Fire extinguishers are categorised as to which sort of fire they can be used on. When it comes to electrical fires, carbon dioxide (CO2) fire extinguishers are the best choice – they can be readily identified by the black panel on the label and by the black horn – as they won’t contaminate nearby electrical equipment.
Also, because the CO2 quickly dissipates once released, it also means that, as long as the fire has been successfully extinguished, downtime will be kept to a minimum. However, you do need to be careful when using a CO2 extinguisher in a confined area, because it works by displacing oxygen.
Dry powder extinguishers can also be used on electrical fires up to 1000v, but they are not recommended for use indoors as they reduce visibility and irritate eyes and airways. They also leave a residue on surfaces so may damage equipment.
For all your domestic, commercial and office fire safety needs, Hoyles Fire & Safety Limited is a leading provider of fire alarms and fire extinguishers across Leeds, Bradford, Huddersfield and the surrounding areas. We also provide fire risk assessments, fire safety training and other fire safety equipment.
Give our team a call on 0808 501 5871 for more information or to make sure that your home or business is fully fire safe.
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1 Figure for 2007.