Space Heater Fire Cause

Recently, we were asked to investigate a fire involving a newly purchased space heater. Space heaters tend to be small heating appliances meant to heat “small” spaces inside a home or other building. In this particular case, the heater was intended for use with propane gas and rated with a capacity of 30,000 BTU/hr. The homeowner had purchased the heater from a local Home Depot store and installed the heater himself. The installation amounted to connecting the heater to a gas supply line. After approximately three days use, a fire occurred. Luckily, the fire was quickly extinguished with minimal burn damage to the floor and smoke damage throughout the remainder of the home. Upon visual examination of the gas line connection, it was noted that the shutoff valve had been attached to the heater gas line fitting. The proper position for the shut off valve was in the gas supply line from the home at the point where the line was accessed above the floor. The outlet of the valve is then supposed to be connected to that part of the gas line that is connected to the heater. However, the main problem was found to have been in the connection of the valve to the heater fitting. The shut off valve appeared to have been cross-threaded onto the fitting. The pipe joint compound used to seal the threaded connection was also scorched and was indicative as well as a confirmation of a gas leak at that point. In should be noted that since propane is heavier than air, an accumulation around the heater while it was in operation would have ignited, which is what actually happened. The photographs below show how the shut off valve was misaligned with the heater fitting and the resulting damage to the heater.

Holiday Fires

This is the time of year when everyone gets excited because Christmas is almost here.  It’s also the time when happiness can turn to disappointment in the blink of an eye.  Disasters caused by fire don’t take a holiday just because it’s Christmas.  This is a time when we need to be especially careful when hanging lights and decorating our trees.  If your strings of lights are frayed, bare or arcing, don’t use them.  If you are using ornaments that contain internal lighting, be sure that the wires are not pinched, the insulation is not cracked and that the bulbs are securely in place.  In addition, be sure that the plugs are in good condition and the prongs are not loose or broken.  Be careful using extension cords.  If you are hanging exterior lighting and you need an extension, be sure to use an extension approved for exterior use.  Do not use an interior extension cord with exterior lighting as they are typically not weather proof.  Rainwater entering the connection can easily cause a short circuit.  Keep an eye on timers and automatic switches to make sure that they turn on and off at the appropriate times.  Just some food for thought…

Wishing everyone a safe and happy holiday season.

I Don't Work That Way!

There have been times when an assignment is received and the client makes known that it wants a certain outcome.  Simply put, the client wants to subrogate against a third party in order to recover its losses.  It is understood that subrogation is in the best interests of the client when the action is justified.  That is, when a product is proven to cause personal injury or property damage, then the insurance carrier should have the right to recover the monetary amount paid to their insured, from the manufacturer.  However, there are times when subrogation is not always possible.  As an example, consider the loss of a building in a fire.  It is suspected that the fire was caused by an electrical malfunction.  The insurance carrier has to indemnify the building owner but doesn’t care who is held responsible as long as some party is identified.  This is where I will NOT work toward accusing any party of wrongdoing unless I have the evidence to do so.  I will not distort facts in favor of a client or create a bias where there is none so that the client can have a favorable position in a subrogation suit.  I believe that all information should be considered.  If that information is contrary to the client’s position, then so be it.  No individual or commercial entity should be treated unfairly.  Let the facts speak for themselves.  If the situation is such that the evidence indicates criminal activity, then my job ends (because I and most engineering investigation companies), do not have any legal authority) and law enforcement begins.   

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