Is your home office a fire hazard? - WAFF-TV: News, Weather and Sports for Huntsville, AL

Is your home office a fire hazard?

*Exploding computer footage courtesy of PC Pitstop, LLC*

The National Fire Protection Association warns that hundreds of house fires are started by home office equipment each year - and these fires are linked to more than 20 million dollars in direct property damage!

Chief Jose Torres is a division chief with the Santa Monica Fire Department in California. He's been in the fire service for more than 30 years and has investigated countless house fires. He says restricted airflow caused by too much clutter can cause a machine to overheat and spark a fire.

"When you have a computer or a printer or a fax machine, or any appliances that have an electrical current running to them, they can overheat and potentially cause a fire," says Torres. "We suffocate our appliances by surrounding them with combustible material. Paper, plastics, trinkets, so we want to make sure that the appliances are well ventilated."

He says faulty surge protectors can also torch a home office.

"What happens is, if you overload them or if you don't use them correctly, you can damage them where the fuse and circuit-breaker don't work. When something is encased in plastic, once it has enough heat it will ignite," says Torres.

Chief Torres recommends inspecting your surge protectors regularly.  

"If you see a surge protector or one of these devices in your home that has black around the outlets, it's probably time to replace it," says Torres.

And if your extension cords are overloaded, he says they could be putting your life at risk.

"Extension cords are the cause of many fires. Multiple-outlet extension cords can be dangerous. The inexpensive extension cords are designed for temporary use. They are not designed for you to use them on a continuous basis," says Torres.

Laptop batteries sold over the internet by unauthorized dealers are another threat.

Torres says, "What happens is a lot of these batteries are recycled. They're overused, overcharged, they become faulty over time. If you're charging a faulty battery, it can present a danger to that appliance because it can catch fire."

Steve Plutte got more than he bargained for when the knock-off battery he bought over the internet caused his computer to erupt in flames.

"It's not just a fire; it's an explosion," says Plutte. "I was in a state of shock. I could have been scarred. I could have lost a hand. I might have lost my sight. It was that big of an explosion. And it had sent out shrapnel from the battery compartment all over the office. Pieces of the battery that had exploded out and then landed on the floor, on my desk, or on my chair and were ignited and starting little fires." 

Fortunately, Plutte had a fire extinguisher nearby.

Chief Torres says, "Everybody should have a fire extinguisher in their home office. Don't ever use water on an electrical fire. If there's an electrical current running to an electrical appliance such as a computer, a printer or a laptop, it's not a good idea because you have energized equipment and you can become electrocuted."

Make sure your home office equipment is always well ventilated. Don't overload your surge protectors and extension cords, and check them regularly to make sure they're functioning properly.

And if you ever buy a replacement battery for your laptop, stick with brands that are authorized by the manufacturer and avoid the cheaper knock-offs.

"I saved $10 but destroyed my computer. Not a wise decision," says Plutte.

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