Fire and Appliance Safety, Part 2

In keeping with the previous post on fire and appliance safety, photographs of some items that have been encountered in previous fire investigations are posted here: the first photo shows an electric stove where the fire originated in the control panel.


The next photo shows a packaged a/c unit damaged by fire as a result of contact made between a live wire and the edge of an opening in the metal casing.


The third photo shows a riding lawn mower that ignited, most likely, by the owner’s failure to keep the machine clean between cuttings.


The next photo is of a paper shredder, also burned, because the machine was not kept clean.  Dust created by shredded paper is just as flammable as any petroleum based fuel if the right conditions exist for ignition.


The propane gas regulator shown below was installed backwards so that gas was flowing into the outlet port and existing through the vent port.  Since there was no pressure regulation, the cap covering the adjustment, (located in the center) was blown off and the escaping gas ignited.  The homeowner happened to be standing nearby and was severely burned.


The next photograph shows a line cord attached to an aquarium pump. The problem was identified as a faulty line cord that was not properly sized for the continuous operation. As a result, the line cord insulation melted and ignited.


The following photograph shows a coffee maker that ignited and caused a small kitchen fire.  This appliance was destroyed badly enough so that the actual problem was unidentifiable.


The pipe flange in the next photograph cracked after having been in use for several years.  The leaking gas percolated up through a homeowner’s lawn and ignited; destroying the home as well as damaging a neighbor’s house.


Corrosion of the copper gas line resulted in the leaking of propane gas and a sudden explosion.  The explosion destroyed a residential structure.


About R.J. Hill, P.E.
R. J. Hill is the author of two blogs: R.J. Hill Consulting and the Descendants of James Alexander Hill. Mr. Hill is a registered professional (mechanical) engineer with 42 years of experience, 37 years in private practice. Please visit to see the kinds of forensic investigations that Mr. Hill performs.

2 Responses to Fire and Appliance Safety, Part 2

  1. Luka Lazarus says:

    Could you do a post on dehumidifier fire hazards? Have you seen cases of them catching fire, and why do they catch fire? It seems, from what I can tell, that they often don’t have any thermal protection, so when there is a problem with the system (commonly a clogged filter), the compressor ends up overheating to the point of catching on fire. That’s just my theory though … a theory based off of the fact that people report the plastic around the compressor getting hot enough to discolor. But I’d like to hear from the experts. 😛

    We had one that was recalled, though thankfully it didn’t catch fire on us. Our current one is a frigidaire. Are those safe?

    P.S. Oh and, have you seen any refrigerator fires? You can find a lot of videos on Youtube of the refrigerator compressor relays arcing and burning, yet strangely, there don’t seem to be many recalls. Surely, with dust and such collecting behind the refrigerators, and flammable polystyrene insulation, this must be a fire hazard!


    • Mr. Lazurus,

      In answer to your question, no, I haven’t seen any dehumidifiers catch fire. That said, dehumidifiers are small refrigeration units that work exactly like household refrigerators. That means that the appliance should be kept as clean as possible in order to avoid fire. You are also correct in that the compressor is a heat source that could ignite layers of dust and other debris that commonly collects in the compressor/condenser area. The key to preventing fire is regular servicing. If you are handy enough to remove the service access cover or front grille, a vacuum cleaner and crevice tool along with an appliance cleaning brush should do the job nicely. You also commented on thermal protection. The only thing that is thermally protected is the compressor. The condenser fan motor may or may not be protected depending on the make and model. If you notice the compressor “short cycling”, that is, turning on and off after very short run periods, that is an indication that the unit needs attention. Usually, a good cleaning will cure the problem. I haven’t seen any recalls lately for refrigerators or dehumidifiers for fire related problems.


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