Gas from the refrigerator and other elements that can start a fire at home

Not a short circuit, not a broken plug, not a badly extinguished cigarette butt or a frying pan on the fire. The terrifying fire that broke out last February in a fourteen-story block in the Valencian neighborhood of Campanar, in which a dozen died of people and hundreds of neighbors had to be evacuated, it originated in the kitchen of the 86th floor in a place that has attracted the attention of both investigators and residents as it is an unusual cause in this type of accident. According to the Scientific Police report, the fire was caused by a “small leak” in the refrigerator condenser and the gas channeling ducts that keep the refrigerator cold. Apparently, isobutane is a very flammable gas that can ignite “with any spark” or due to the device’s own static electricity.

Of all the causes that were considered, a refrigerant gas leak at the back of the refrigerator was not among the most probable hypotheses. «When we think of a fire in a home, the first thing that comes to mind is a spark somewhere in the electrical system, a candle, a cigarette or even a pot forgotten while cooking. The last thing we think is that a gas in the refrigerator could be the cause of a fire in our house,” admits Alejandro Ortuño, technical engineer and expert in firefighting.

However, an incident of these characteristics can occur in the most unexpected places and for the most unexpected reasons. Here are some of them.

Scooters and mobiles

Be very careful with devices that have lithium batteries (mobile phones, electric scooters…) because they can catch fire while charging. Just a month ago, seven crews from the Generalitat Fire Department had to travel to a home in Girona to put out a fire that broke out inside the house when a scooter battery began to burn. Two people were injured. «The first thing to understand is that a cold battery does not catch fire. That is, the critical point for it to explode normally occurs during charging. Lithium-ion cells overheat and burn. But it can also happen that it catches fire because it has been hit or manipulated,” details Daniel Vique, engineer in Mapfre’s Accident Reconstruction department and professor at the European University.

How do you turn it off? «One of the main problems with these batteries is precisely that they cannot be turned off easily, an especially dangerous circumstance if they catch fire inside a house. “It is impossible to extinguish it with water alone, so it is best to isolate the device and wait for the flames to burn out.”

Christmas tree

The combination of flammable materials (artificial branches, tinsel, balls, figurines…) with lights, plugs and power strips everywhere, in addition to the number of candles that are usually lit on those dates is a very dangerous mixture. Fire stations receive many notices during the Christmas holidays due to small fires breaking out in the living rooms as a result of the Christmas decorations. “In addition to the obvious part of not lighting candles near textiles or materials that can burn easily, it is important to check the lights, power strips and, above all, not to make botched joints if you don’t know how,” the experts agree.

How do you turn it off? «In order to put out this type of home fire, it is advisable to have a small fire extinguisher in the home. The most widespread model is known as the ABC multipurpose powder extinguisher because it is the one that is used for more types of fire: wood, fabric, plastic, gasoline, paints, petroleum, butane, propane, methane…

The hood filter

Poor maintenance of appliances is another cause behind more fires in homes. And one of the great forgotten ones in this sense is the extractor hood. Not only do you have to clean the filters to prevent grease from accumulating and starting a fire, but in certain models it is mandatory to change them from time to time. «Something similar happens with boilers. Depending on the fuel (natural gas, propane…) they have ventilation, inspection and maintenance instructions that must be followed to avoid scares,” insists Alejandro Ortuño.

How do you turn it off? «To put out the typical fire that breaks out from a frying pan on fire, it is recommended to use a group F device because its extinguishing agent is specially prepared to put an end to the flames caused by the use of oils and fats used in kitchens. . “As it is dust-free, visibility is not lost at any time nor does it cause a risk of suffocation in closed places.”

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