Thursday, December 22, 2005

playing with fire

Let me start this post by saying that no one got hurt and house is fine. Ok, now we've got that sorted out, I called 9-1-1 for the very first time this evening because my outdoor Christmas lights caught fire. It's been a couple of hours now and my heart beat has finally returned to normal.

I was in the kitchen cooking dinner and I kept thinking that I could smell something burning. I checked the pan in the oven and it was fine. I looked under the skillet on the stovetop and figured that it must be a little piece of something caught under the burner. I kept on cooking but the smell persisted.

After a few minutes I noticed that the light above the stove was flickering. I thought that maybe the fan in the exhaust hood was shaking it around. I turned around and the lights in the kitchen were flickering. I looked out the kitchen window and the tree in the front yard was engulfed in smoke. I could see a flame down by the ground where the lights were plugged into a buried cable. With great eloquence I walked into the livingroom and said to Kendra "I think the Christmas lights are on fire."

Remembering electric safety from years ago I grabbed some rubber soled flip-flops and a pair of oven mits and headed outside to try and unplug the cable from the end that wasn't on fire. It worked but there was so much smoke. The smoke dissipated pretty quickly but there was smoke coming out of the ground and I know that fire can travel underground so I decided to call 9-1-1.

I've never called 9-1-1 before. For some reason I flashed back to elementary school lectures on how important it was never to call 9-1-1 unless it was really, really important. I figured this counted. I talked to the dispatcher who asked a few questions and said the firemen were on their way. Sirens blazing they came.

By the time they got to the house I was pretty sure that everything was okay but I was still really glad to see them. They took a look at the plug, fried, and showed me where the plug had arched and melted the contacts. They checked around and pronounced it all good. Apparently the heavy rain is a pretty common cause of Christmas light fires. I am just thankful that the tree didn't catch fire (or the house for that matter.) Many thanks to the fine men of the White Rock Fire Dept.

Here's what I learned about Christmas light safety:
  1. Heavy rain can cause outdoor lights to spark. The safest option is to unplug the lights if it rains a lot. (One of the firemen said that he'd noticed his own lights smoking yesterday.)
  2. Using a longer extension cord than needed for the job can increase the risk of fire. Lots of cable = lots of resistance. Resistancce means heat and heat can cause fire.
  3. If you are using a long cable make sure you stretch it out. A long cable lying wrapped generates even more heat. Apparently you can wrap an extension cord tightly around the leg of a wooden chair and there's enough heat that the leg will catch on fire.
In the end it was a very minor incident for which I am very thankful. The firemen are all lovely. I hope to never see them again.

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