Electrical Outlet Fire

Has anyone ever had an electrical duplex outlet arc and catch on fire when plugging in equipment?

I have been helping my wife on her new horse ranch property investment we decided to turn to a vacation home Air BnB rental until remodel costs plummet, then possibly turn it to a primary residence

It was built in late 70s custom home extensive high current four 200 amp electrical boxes extensive 10 guage romex circuits. I was planning to power wash with a washer. I found while washing the back porch, outdoor kitchen, pool areas that about 70 percent of outside duplex outlets were inop. Looking at the circuit breakers none were tripped. Nor could I find any tripped GFCI. So as i circled house I was getting power from indoors as dome were inop.

I hot to the front porch area. Step daughter was running a vacuum indoors, and I tried front porch outlet. I flipped up the cover and started to plug in cord containing a GFCI on the power washer cord. Instantly a 6 inch blue arc both sides. Lucky no shock other than astonishment. I heard the vacuum indoors stop same instant by the way the vacuum works no more either. Being curious I decided to flip up the other side of its metal cover to see if it looked damaged. Luckily I flipped it up with the plug not bare hand. It took off like a blow torch with increased oxygen and more sustained arcing. I next had flames arcing and the weatherstripping on outlet covers burning up the brick. I stood back thinking need and extinguisher but no clue closest Ai new of was in horse barn 100 yards away. Do moment of despair I decided rubber sole tennis shoe stomp out the electrical fire only other choice was water hose or whizzing on it. Luckily the stomp broke short circuit arc and flame and combustibles died down shutting off oxygen.

Since there is a home warranty we opened up a service call. Clearly one of those I can’t believe I was so stupid or fast thinking moments.

Hopefully they sort out the issue. The extra work for this property has been maddening trying to get it prepared as a mini dude ranch vacation get away. But must say the walk to mailbox is scenic and a stroll


Wow! That sounds… nerve wracking and frightening.

I’m sure an electrician will sort it out. Hopefully your home warranty people can’t find a way to deny the claim.

Edit: I am honestly curious how the circuit breaker didn’t trip when the short occurred.

That stroll for the mail looks wonderful. Bring carrots and apples…

I have a property management business and problems with exterior outlets can be a problem. Part of the problem is they are rarely used. Over time the outside elements get into outlets and cause corrosion, which causes issues with good contact. Sometimes the issue can be tracking down the primary cause, but it can be a bad GFCI and/or one or more connecting outlets/switches. A good electrician will resolve the issue.

As mentioned, warranty companies occasionally make issues with a claim to get out of paying. I have found some warranty companies are better than others. Hopefully, your repair experience goes well. Let us know how you make out once it is resolved.

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I elected not to troubleshoot it. Leave it to home warranty or insurance at this point. The older electrical box in house has few 15 amp breakers loads of 20, 30 and 40s given it was before the city got gas service and is electrical heat. The property has its own dedicated transformer from electrical co-op. I have been drooling over audio possibilities.

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I have seen arching inside an outlet before. It’s usually the contact on the outlet is corroded to the point there is no more any continuity between the wire and outlet so the current jumps across the contact through the air causing the arcing. Damp areas or age can contribute to this corrosion.

It would be wonderful to have a hi-end stereo system out in a ranch away from noise and neighbors.

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Thanks. I will share an update of what the electrician discovers. Some of bedrooms are out on power. So maybe breaker opened finally popped. I just found an indoor outlet, look for smoke inside and kept power washing versus checking breaker status.

Sometimes the original electrician may have hooked up outlets or even rooms to the GFCI that were not needed to be protected. That is why you find unexplained issues that turn out to be GFCI or even breaker related. Sometimes things just fail too. I have seen some weird issues in the past 30 years of property management. :laughing:

That was my hope. The previous owner left behind a bunch of home theater and old receivers, processors , pioneer, sony, bose and carver stuff. I need to sort through and figure out interior and exterior analog and digital runs for Air BnB Right now I have to set up systems in the main large family room, billiards room, pool and sauna outdoor areas, and master suite.

I do look forward to putting my main system there when we convert it back to residence. By then I may never want to toil there anymore.

Wild! Glad you’re OK, not sure I’d have had the clarity of mind to stomp it out.

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Couple thoughts. First, my bet would be on a high impedance fault occurring (think an arching fault that has high resistance, therefore high heat, but current draw below the breaker rating, screw terminal close to a metal junction box for example, I tape all receptacles). Second, Romex wiring maybe without the ground wire properly connected (or EMT with a disconnected coupling). Under normal conditions, the fault would be carried over the ground wire (or metallic raceway - EMT) to the panelboard and trip the breaker if the load is high enough (it’s called a low impedance fault path). Also, GFCI receptacles do have a failure rate and require periodic replacement (the test switch isn’t a real test). Finally, if the fault occurred on the line side of the receptacle, the GFCI isn’t in play.

Edit: the cheap builder special receptacles do fall apart. That could cause an arching fault.


How often should GFCIs be replaced?

My reps tell me every 10 years. It’s what I tell my family…brother has a boat and dock by water so he’s especially concerned.



Good to know.

These are a better test of a properly functioning GFCI than the built in test switch.


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Thanks Dale. I never would have thought of this.

Glad to learn no one was injured and the damage was minor. Engaging a licensed electrician seems like a good move. As amsco15 indicated there are scenarios where the breaker and/or GFCI may not trip. Regardless it is not comforting. In addition to new outlets, and wiring it may be time for new circuit breakers as well. The fact that they did not trip merits additional investigation as to why. My electrical training would have you isolate the circuit and then put out the fire with a chemical extinguisher.

Same here. For exterior, I started using the best in-use covers I could find at Home Depot. I also use 100% silicone along with the gasket to get the best seal I can.

This outlet is on a covered porch and way set back. Plus it was covered. The outlet itself looks like ceramic insulator. It was more white in color compared to later plastic ones. Knowing the previous owner everything he thought might be reused he saved for reuse. I would not be surprised he replaced the duplex with an antique.

Agree I should have rand to garage and flipped master breaker. The flames shooting out and scorching the brick and fear of internal wall fire led me to an unwise decision.

I would add a couple of thoughts … one, never use liquids on an electrical fire. The liquid can conduct electricity! Two, I would have an electrician inspect all the exterior outlets for faulty outlets and damaged wiring. You might have varmits chewing on the wire. You said many other outlets were not working, could be a sign of a systemic problem, e.g., a do it your selfer that was not qualified.