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Thread: A first for me

  1. #1
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    Default A first for me

    I have always heard about fires that started in electrical panels or homes, but had the opportunity last week to see one in action.
    I was inspecting a house that had been vacant for over a year. It was on a well, and the buyer and realtor had not been able to find the well head during previous visits. In a few minutes I found what looked like the well head.

    There was a 8" metal pipe coming out of the ground, and it had a plastic bowl upside down over the top. I flipped the bowl off with my foot and saw an open well liner with wires sticking out the top. They looked a little scorched so I grabbed a stick and moved them slightly. They sparked and immediately caught on fire. Pretty cool to see, but not so great to have happen.

    Turns out the wires were #10 and connected to a 60 amp breaker in the main panel (no didn't trip when arcing occurred). The 60 amp circuit went to a hot tub, then was spliced to the #10 to the well.

    Inspection Referral SOC

  2. #2
    Robert Rolleston's Avatar
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Why not verify if the wires are live before you go poking them around with a stick. You most likely caused a small repair to turn into a much larger repair than it should have been.


  3. #3
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Rolleston View Post
    Why not verify if the wires are live before you go poking them around with a stick. You most likely caused a small repair to turn into a much larger repair than it should have been.
    Robert, you don't know Jack.

    The fire was unexpected, the wiring to the well was already haywire, and sounds like more than a small repair was needed, such as a new feeder all the way from the panel, no?

    John Kogel, RHI, BC HI Lic #47455
    www.allsafehome.ca

  4. #4
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    Default Re: A first for me

    You should be poking around with one of these and not a stick.

    Circuit Tester.jpg
    Fluke 1AC-A1-II Volt-Alert AC Non-Contact Voltage Tester

    Reminds me of a time I saw some cops poking a garbage can with a stick to see if there was an explosive in it. They were lucky, you weren't. Actually, with a device such as this is not required to touch the wire in question---it works by coming close.


  5. #5
    Robert Rolleston's Avatar
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by John Kogel View Post
    Robert, you don't know Jack.

    The fire was unexpected, the wiring to the well was already haywire, and sounds like more than a small repair was needed, such as a new feeder all the way from the panel, no?
    Next time I am at a homeowners house where the wiring could have been fixed I will just poke around with a stick and cause it to short out. I wonder how that will play out with my liability insurance. The conductor could have caught fire in the house and caused much more damage. Next time it may be a good idea to call an electrician in to figure out what is going on. Playing electrician by poking around with a stick is far from profesional. I am confused what exactly did the OP expect to accomplish by poking the wires with a stick?

    I would have found out what circuit is feeding the wires and killed power to do the correct repairs.


  6. #6
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    Default Re: A first for me

    It's easy to play arm chair quarterback. Let's just remember the inspector did not cause the defect, simply discovered the problem in an area that sounds like it was covered with debris. I'm not getting down on the ground with a tester to try and find a hidden well head.
    That is a sure recipe to get snake bitten here.
    A long non-conductive stick would be my first choice for probing the area. Remember he was looking for the well that no one could locate, not repairing, not even testing for function.
    Give it a break guys.

    Jim Luttrall
    www.MrInspector.net
    Plano, Texas

  7. #7
    Robert Rolleston's Avatar
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Jim Luttrall View Post
    It's easy to play arm chair quarterback. Let's just remember the inspector did not cause the defect, simply discovered the problem in an area that sounds like it was covered with debris. I'm not getting down on the ground with a tester to try and find a hidden well head.
    That is a sure recipe to get snake bitten here.
    A long non-conductive stick would be my first choice for probing the area. Remember he was looking for the well that no one could locate, not repairing, not even testing for function.
    Give it a break guys.
    He found the well from what his post said and he saw scorched wires. He could not just leave it alone. Instead of writing in his report noting the defect should be checked out by a profesional. He decided to poke at it. You notice some wires that are defective and you solution is to poke at them and see what happens. Please help me understand what poking at defective wiring accomplishes other than causing a fire.


  8. #8
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Robert,
    The wire was in contact with the metal well head. I was trying to move it away from the metal well core because I thought that it might be energized (it was!) when it arced and caught fire.
    I was thinking of the safety of the people around me. My client's 80ish father was walking all over the place looking for the well head when I pulled up.
    This is how it went down...
    I pull up to the house 15 minutes before my appointed time to find my client and parents walking around the house (they have been there an hour) looking for the well head.
    I walk over and see them a few feet from the well head.
    I outlined already what went down.
    At this point, I had not even been in the house yet, and didn't even have my tool belt on.
    The father is walking around picking up stuff looking for the well (and who knows what else.
    When this happened, I RAN to my vehicle, got my tool belt, handed the no contact voltage checker to my client, showed her how to use it...TOLD EVERYONE TO STAY AWAY FROM THE WIRES, and ran to find the electrical panel and started flipping breakers until she yelled that it was off.

    From your arm chair, I'm sure you can find fault with what I did, and how I did it. But I felt what I did was appropriate for the situation, and the safety of myself, my client, and her family. Oh, before you jump on me for giving my tester to my female client, she had just retired from 25 years as a Marine.


  9. #9
    Robert Rolleston's Avatar
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Jack Feldmann View Post
    Robert,
    The wire was in contact with the metal well head. I was trying to move it away from the metal well core because I thought that it might be energized (it was!) when it arced and caught fire.
    I was thinking of the safety of the people around me. My client's 80ish father was walking all over the place looking for the well head when I pulled up.
    This is how it went down...
    I pull up to the house 15 minutes before my appointed time to find my client and parents walking around the house (they have been there an hour) looking for the well head.
    I walk over and see them a few feet from the well head.
    I outlined already what went down.
    At this point, I had not even been in the house yet, and didn't even have my tool belt on.
    The father is walking around picking up stuff looking for the well (and who knows what else.
    When this happened, I RAN to my vehicle, got my tool belt, handed the no contact voltage checker to my client, showed her how to use it...TOLD EVERYONE TO STAY AWAY FROM THE WIRES, and ran to find the electrical panel and started flipping breakers until she yelled that it was off.

    From your arm chair, I'm sure you can find fault with what I did, and how I did it. But I felt what I did was appropriate for the situation, and the safety of myself, my client, and her family. Oh, before you jump on me for giving my tester to my female client, she had just retired from 25 years as a Marine.
    Great job. Lesson learned kill the power before poking around if you can't kill it get help. Just think if the #10 wire went all the way back to the house and started on fire inside the house. Yelling for them to come over and show them you found it and to leave it alone would be a good start.

    Damn right I will give you hell for handing her the tester. You put her within arms length of a possible arch flash hazard if it started to arching again.

    I always carefully check the main panel and all other panels first. I have seen where someone tapped before the main to run a circuit. Unfused #10 gives one heck of a pop flash bang that I hope to never see again. Some very old farms are the worst place. I have seen buildings on land that got split up and some how wiring from one building to the next was not disconnected. My uncles old house had live wires inside the main panel even after they cut the drop. Found them feeding from another property nearby.

    Sorry but I have worked in an industrial environment and safety is very important we are always going to safety meetings and being refreshed on safety. Expect every wire you see to be live. And don't touch it till it can be safely turned off and verified dead is one of the things they always mentioned. I would get fired if I poked at some hazardous wires at work with a stick.


  10. #10
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Jack,

    Sounds like you did everything right. You protected yourself and protected your client. Its easy to be an armchair quarterback and say what ifs but if your not there then you need to respect the decisions made by the person there.

    //Rick

    Rick Bunzel
    WWW.PacCrestInspections.com
    360-588-6956

  11. #11
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Bunzel View Post
    Jack,

    Sounds like you did everything right. You protected yourself and protected your client. Its easy to be an armchair quarterback and say what ifs but if your not there then you need to respect the decisions made by the person there.

    //Rick
    You did the right thing,ignore what others say,they were not there.


  12. #12
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Too much criticism of inspector's actions. Wiring should be installed in such a manner as not to burst into flames when nudged with stick. Safest policy would be to refuse to inspect. Is it true that arc flash injuries at arms length from 240 volts are rare? As opposed to 480 volt found in industrial wiring.


  13. #13
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Rolleston View Post
    Why not verify if the wires are live before you go poking them around with a stick. You most likely caused a small repair to turn into a much larger repair than it should have been.
    Robert,

    Whether you know Jack or not ...

    Poking around with a stick does not "cause" anything, the "cause" was the improper wiring and connections.

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  14. #14
    Robert Rolleston's Avatar
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    Robert,

    Whether you know Jack or not ...

    Poking around with a stick does not "cause" anything, the "cause" was the improper wiring and connections.
    Sorry just my opinion I always kill the power before poking around. Especially when inside a home when removing receptacles or anything I work on the power gets turned off. Makes me feel better that I can do stuff without fires or sparks.


  15. #15
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Rolleston View Post
    Especially when inside a home when removing receptacles or anything I work on the power gets turned off. Makes me feel better that I can do stuff without fires or sparks.
    My wife tells me the same thing, but that takes the fun out of it - I work on most of it hot, and still manage to avoid the fires or sparks (avoid fires all the time, sparks most of the time) and usually manage to avoid the tingling sensation cause by jerking ones arm or hand back with a reflex action when touching what I did not intend to touch.

    You probably wear a belt AND suspenders too ... right?

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  16. #16
    Robert Rolleston's Avatar
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Jerry Peck View Post
    My wife tells me the same thing, but that takes the fun out of it - I work on most of it hot, and still manage to avoid the fires or sparks (avoid fires all the time, sparks most of the time) and usually manage to avoid the tingling sensation cause by jerking ones arm or hand back with a reflex action when touching what I did not intend to touch.

    You probably wear a belt AND suspenders too ... right?
    At home I dont mind doint a little bit of risky work. But customers tend to be unimpressed when you remove a receptacle from a box and cause a dead short because of a broken wire or bad connection. They are even less impressed when said sparks cause marks on their new carpet.


  17. #17
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Robert Rolleston View Post
    Sorry just my opinion I always kill the power before poking around. Especially when inside a home when removing receptacles or anything I work on the power gets turned off. Makes me feel better that I can do stuff without fires or sparks.
    As inspectors we do not turn off the power or that little water valve that looks so tempting for some pretty good reasons. We don't pull recepticals either, maybe a cover plate but not much more.

    Scott Patterson, ACI
    Spring Hill, TN
    www.traceinspections.com

  18. #18
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Scott Patterson View Post
    As inspectors we do not turn off the power or that little water valve that looks so tempting for some pretty good reasons. We don't pull recepticals either, maybe a cover plate but not much more.
    All the more reason to leave stuff alone. If you can't kill the power don't mess with it. Make a note and have a pro look at it.


  19. #19
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Making a mental note to myself:
    Poking wires with stick, could cause fire.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  20. #20
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Quote Originally Posted by Rick Cantrell View Post
    Poking wires with stick, could cause fire.
    Of course ... wood sticks are combustible ...

    Jerry Peck, Construction / Litigation Consultant
    Construction Litigation Consultants, LLC ( www.ConstructionLitigationConsultants.com )
    www.AskCodeMan.com

  21. #21
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Jack
    Thanks for telling all of us about your experience.
    Yes, you did make some mistakes, but we will gain from your experience.

    When I was about 2 or 3, I put a hair pin in a wall outlet.
    I still remember it clearly.
    Only took one time to learn not to do that.

    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

  22. #22
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    Default Re: A first for me

    I posted this to say that I had never seen electrical wires catch fire. Nothing more.
    All of the arm chair quarterbacking and pontification I find amusing/frustrating.

    Keep in mind that my first thought seeing the scorched wire in contact with the metal well liner, was to move the wire away from the metal pipe. Granted, I probably should have located the main panel and shut it all down before I acted. But I had just driven up. I used a piece of wood to move the wires safely away from the metal. I was not willy nilly poking around with a stick, as assumed by some posters here. The wires were probably quite hot already, otherwise I doubt they would have caught fire with a small arc. I don't know.

    It's very easy to criticize someone from the safety of their keyboard, and hindsight is almost always 20/20.


  23. #23
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    Default Re: A first for me

    Jack, I did NOT intend to sound like I was criticizing you.

    Last edited by Rick Cantrell; 04-10-2013 at 01:04 PM. Reason: added "NOT"
    ' correct a wise man and you gain a friend... correct a fool and he'll bloody your nose'.

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