ACCIDENTAL FIRES CAN HAPPEN TO THE BEST OF US
There are four categories of fire-cause which encompass all fires:
natural (lightning, spontaneous combustion)
accidental (careless smoking, defective power equipment)
undetermined (unable to prove)
An accidental fire can be defined as one which was ignited or spread due to unintentional human design or action. The fire investigation specialists at Walters Forensic Engineering encounter many unusual circumstances surrounding accidental fire causes. We have seen the devastation that a preventable accidental fire can leave behind. As a result, all of us, myself included, have developed an alertness to potential fire hazards which are present in everyday life.
Well, despite all of my training and experience, this particular fire investigator has recently experienced 2 near-miss accidental fires in my own home. Both instances involved a combustible material accidentally coming into contact with a nearby light bulb. Both cases involved totally harmless actions, yet very dangerous fire hazards quickly arose. I guess that is why they are called accidents.
Lampshade Falling into Contact with a Light Bulb
The first accidental almost-fire involved a small reading lamp on a bedside table. During some repair work in the bedroom, the lampshade was accidentally knocked off its clamp which was attached around the light bulb. The lampshade fell to one side, causing the inner surface of the lampshade material to come in contact with the hot light bulb. Our attention remained directed tot he task at hand, and the developing fire hazard went unnoticed. Within a minute o two, the light bulb started to burn through the lampshade.
Fortunately, the smell of the smouldering material alerted us to the situation. The lampshade was lifted off the light bulb, and no further harm was done.
It is easy to image, though, that if we had left the room before any burning smell was noticed, the lampshade would have started on fire within minutes. Shortly thereafter, the bedding and curtains would have caught fire. You take it from there .
Clothing in Contact with Closet Light Fixture
The second near-incident occurred in a bedroom closet with a light fixture near the top shelf. As is frequently the case, once-organized plies of clothing become less organized over time. Once again, this safety-conscious engineer is not exception. Over time, the pile of clothes on the top shelf had spread out and inched its way ever nearer to the exposed light bulb. The light would be turned on for short periods, and then turned off when it was no longer needed.
One morning, the light was left on a little longer than usual. Once again, the smell of something burning alerted us. However, this time it took a few minutes to locate the origin of the burning smell. The casualty this time was a knitted sweater.
Once again it is easy to imagine the sweater igniting, surrounded by all of the other combustible articles of clothing in the closet. The entire closet would have been in flames within a few minutes.
What We Can Learn From This
Both cases involved common everyday situations, which went unnoticed. This indicated that preventable fires may still occur because no attention is drawn to typically harmless situations.
Both cases involved 40-watt light bulbs. Make no mistake, the surface of a 40-watt light bulb is hot enough to ignite a combustible material like fabric or plastic. There is ample electrical current associated with many common household devices to create countless potential fire hazards in the home setting.
Be careful out there. I know I will.
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Walters Forensic Engineering | 277 Wellington
Street West, Suite 800 | Toronto, ON M5V 3H2