Electrical problems cause two outer East Portland home fires

Find out what can be learned from these two tragic blazes – plus another in North Portland – and why these fires could have been prevented …

When fire broke out at this home, in the 8300 block of NE Thompson Street, the fire spread through the walls and into the roof. Dick Harris, PF&R photo

By David F. Ashton
Because they need to be sure, investigators at Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) carefully research the cause of each fire that their crews quench. Sometimes, the cause is carelessness or human error – such as hooking high-wattage heaters to flimsy extension cords; not cleaning lint filters in clothes dryers – and leaving a pan filled with grease on a hot stove.

But, three fires – just four days apart – had a hidden cause: Faulty electrical systems, PF&R spokesman Paul Corah told East Portland News.

There was a lot of damage to the NE Thompson Street house – all because of this single staple, which crimped Romex electrical cable. PF&R photo

> On October 20, firefighters responded to reports of a residential fire in the 8300 block of NE Thompson Street. Fire Investigators determined that the cause of the fire was due to a staple that was driven too tightly against a Romex electrical cable, which caused it to overheat and catch fire.  Damage to the home is estimated at $25,000.

This tragic scene could have been avoided, on SE 97th Avenue, had more care been taken during remodeling. PF&R photo

> On October 22, firefighters responded to reports of a residential fire in the 4600 block of SE 97th Avenue.  PF&R investigators determined the cause of this fire was a nail that was driven through electrical conduit, which caused electrical arcing and the resulting fire. Damage is estimated at $5,000.

A major fire in N. Portland was traced to this faulty circuit-breaker box. PF&R photo

> On October 24, firefighters responded to reports of a residential fire in a vacant two-story house at 855 NE Rosa Parks Way.  A Fire Investigator determined that the fire started at the electrical panel.  Damage is estimated at $30,000.

Take care when remodeling
Here’s why this is important:
Many homes in outer East Portland were built long ago. Many of these homes are now being substantially remodeled.

The statistics Corah related were, indeed, shocking: “Each year, across the nation, electrical problems cause 68,000 home fires and 500 deaths,” Corah related.  “A fire caused by a faulty electrical system or electrical issue can destroy a home, and everything in it, within minutes.”

What can you do?
“We urge homeowners and contractors to exercise caution when doing home remodeling work,” Corah warned. “Use special care when placing fasteners or nails near electrical wiring. And, consider having your home’s electrical system inspected by a qualified professional when buying, selling, or renovating.”

Electrical fire safety checklist

  • Many of these items on the checklist Corah provided seem like “common sense” ideas. But, a surprising number of fires start because residents didn’t heed these tips:
  • Don’t overload extension cords or wall sockets;
  • Replace worn, old, or damaged electrical cords promptly; and,
  • Call a licensed electrician if you notice a burning smell coming from appliances, touch warm outlets or wall switches, have flickering lights, or see sparks coming from an outlet. (Sparks are an especially worrying clue!)

And, note that a residential electrical permit is needed from the City of Portland’s Bureau of Development Services to:

  • Install, change or repair any hard-wired electrical system
  • Run additional wiring
  • Put in an additional electrical outlet or light fixture
  • Change your fuse box to circuit breakers
  • Install or alter low voltage systems, such as a security alarm, stereo, computer, or phone system

For additional information on the permits needed, or to apply for permits related to your home’s electrical system online or at the Development Services Center, visit their website: CLICK HERE. Or, call Residential Electrical Inspections at (503) 823-4735.

> Cover photo by Dick Harris, PF&R

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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