Overloaded outlet likely sparked house fire; smoke detectors saved family

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Ryan O'Donnell

Posted on December 6, 2013 at 6:47 AM

Updated Friday, Dec 6 at 7:20 AM

PHOENIX -- A child was burned and a woman injured her leg while escaping an early morning house fire that was likely caused by an overloaded outlet.

It happened just before 2 a.m. Friday in the neighborhood northwest of 16th Street and Southern Avenue. Seven people, five of them children, lived in the home and were asleep when their smoke detectors sounded.

According to investigators, there were too many things plugged into a single electrical outlet.

That kind of electrical fire is relatively common during the holidays. Many people connect several strands of lights or other decorations to a single plug, overloading the outlet. It also can happen when people plug in space heaters, which are high-energy appliances, to stay warm during cold nights.

Too many Christmas decorations plugged into outlets and power strips were likely the cause of a mobile home fire that claimed the life of a Mesa woman last year. Investigators believe the plethora of decorations caused an electrical overload.

"Each year, nearly 130,000 home fires are reported during the month of December, claiming more than 400 lives and causing more than 1,600 injuries," said Brett Brenner, president of the Electrical Safety Foundation International. "An increase in indoor activities combined with shopping, entertaining, and cooking for family and friends can cause many consumers to forget basic home safety."

While firefighters have not said if holiday decorations or space heaters are to blame, they know the outlet was overloaded and are calling the fire accidental.

According to Phoenix fire Capt. Tony Mure, the residents said the fire started in the kids' bedroom.

The smoke detectors gave the family enough time to escape their burning home. One of the five children received a minor burn and a woman injured her leg.

The damage to the home was severe enough that the family had to stay somewhere else for the rest of the morning. It's not clear when -- or if -- the family will be able to return.

Mure says this fire is a good reminder to Valley residents to check their smoke detectors once a month and change the batteries once a year.

"This simple device saved seven lives today!" he said in an email to media outlets.

Holiday decoration safety

ESFI recommends following these tips to prevent electrical fires during the holiday season.

Never leave a stove or toaster oven unattended.

Cooking is the leading cause of home fires in December. Never leave a child alone when cooking or when an electrical appliance is within reach.

With greater activity comes increased energy use. Be careful not to overburden your electrical system by running clothes dryers, space heaters, and other high-energy appliances at the same time.

Flickering lights, tripped circuit breakers, and blown fuses are warning signs that your home’s electrical outlets may be overloaded.

Inspect your electrical products. Look for cracked or frayed appliance cords, exposed wires, and loose connections.

Use only non-flammable decorations that are placed away from heating vents, and avoid using candles.

When decorating, do not staple or nail through light strings or cords. Maintain holiday lights, and avoid overloading outlets.

Confirm that there are working smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers on each floor of your home.

Finally, always turn off and unplug holiday decorations before leaving home or going to bed.

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