Electricity is an essential part of most days of our lives. While we may not realize it, many of us cannot imagine a day without it. It powers our computers, lights our homes, charges our smart phones and brews our morning coffee. Because electricity can be a reliable friend, we sometimes forget the incredible power it has. 

I have seen a number of crazy and scary electrical problems during my career. I have seen an entire commercial building wired with extension cords, bare and charged wires sticking out of the floor, but the most memorable was the portable heater plugged into a light-weight extension cord. I was assigned to complete new business inspections. I walked into the new dress shop and could smell that burning plastic electrical scent. As I walked through the store, I found a portable heater plugged into a lightweight extension cord. The extension cord plug was melted. A fire was imminent. It was a cold day, and their store heating unit had not been working.

These are examples from commercial spaces, but the same things happen in our homes. 

While electricity is not the leading cause of fires in our homes, it does account for about the same percentage of home fire deaths as other leading causes of home fires such as cooking and heating equipment. I never cease to be amazed at the ways that electrical wiring in homes can be modified unsafely. While the number of electrical outlets in demand is much higher today than when many of the buildings in our community were built, it is essential that we use the available power appropriately. 

In order to make sure your home or family does not become one of the casualties to an electrical fire, here are a few simple things you can do:

• When you are buying, selling or remodeling a home, have it inspected by a qualified electrician.

• Replace cracked and damaged electrical cords.

• Only plug one heat-producing appliance (such as a coffee maker, toaster, space heater, etc.) into a receptacle outlet at a time.

• Avoid pinching cords against walls or furniture or running them under carpets or across doorways. This causes extra resistance and heating which can cause a fire.

• Use extension cords for temporary use only.

• If outlets or switches feel warm, shut off the circuit and have them checked by an electrician.

Call a qualified electrician or landlord if you have:

• Recurring problems with blowing fuses or tripping circuit breakers.

• A tingling feeling when you touch an electrical appliance.

• Discolored or warm wall outlets.

• A burning smell or rubbery odor coming from an appliance.

• Flickering lights.

• Sparks from an outlet.

Don’t modify the electrical wiring in your home or on appliances without the help of an electrician.

If you see smoke or flames, call 9-1-1 immediately. And, as always, check your smoke alarm to make sure it works.

The Alarm Box, a column with local public safety information, appears triweekly in the Tidings. Margueritte Hickman is a division chief/fire marshal with Ashland Fire & Rescue. Email topic suggestions to her at margueritte.hickman@ashland.or.us.