How this fire happened
This fire was caused by a fault within the electrical supply cut out fuse, which created sufficient heat to set light to its backing board and surrounding combustible items.
The incoming electrical supply was in a cupboard situated in the entrance hall to a flat.
This cupboard also contained combustible household items, which were stored in close proximity to the electrical equipment.
The fire occurred in the early morning, when the single occupant of the flat was asleep and because of the type of materials that were burning, it quickly created a large amount of thick toxic smoke.
Fortunately the cupboard door was shut - which held back the flames and heat and only allowed a limited amount of smoke to escape.
The flat was fitted with a working smoke detector, which quickly woke the occupant, who was subsequently able to escape and call East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service.
How this fire happened
This fire occurred on a cold January night with snow on the ground, therefore the home's heating system, electrical night storage heaters, were all on and therefore drawing a high load.
Fortunately the family had just fitted new smoke detectors and these went off about 2.30 am and the family of three, who were all in their beds upstairs, were downstairs within seconds.
They discovered the source of the smoke was from under the stairs where the homes main electrical intake equipment (service cut out & fuse, meter and consumer unit) was located.
There were a number of items stored around this equipment including; an open fronted storage unit for shoes, three brooms, a small plastic waste basket containing a plastic ball thrower (for the dog) and a tool box. Just outside the cupboard was a bin liner of shoes and some Hessian shopping bags.
As the family came down the stairs, they observed that the service cut out fuse was “engulfed in flames” – saying “it looked like a ball of flames”.
The consumer unit was unaffected and so was the meter.
They described “what looked like small balls of flame were coming off the service cut out fuse and setting light to the shopping bags”.
By this time their daughter had gone out of the front door leaving it open. The mother picked up the hessian bags which had started to catch fire and threw them through the front door.
However the shoes were now alight and the service cut out fuse was described as “spitting fire faster than we could believe”.
They called 999 and fire crews from the local station arrived shortly after, but the fire had caught the coats hanging on the other side of the hall and the downstairs was well alight with flames clearly out the front door.
The effect it had
"I cannot begin to explain how much stress the fire has put us under.
To go through the trauma of the fire itself is bad enough, but the events which followed were almost overwhelming.
We found out that we were not covered by insurance and were left trying to replace everything with no money and little hope of compensation.
We have been temporarily re housed, but have had to beg or borrow every item we now possess.
Add to this, the nightmares, lack of sleep and bad memories and we know the effects of the fire will be with us for a very long time.
We were lucky that we had newly installed smoke detectors which enabled us to escape with our lives.
Standing in night clothes in the snow watching it all unfold was surreal to say the least.
We are lucky to be alive and appreciate that.
We also have great respect and admiration for the firefighters who tackled the blaze."
Every year, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service attends a number of fires caused by electrical faults in the area of the electrical intake to a property.
For any fire to start it needs three things:
This is commonly known as the "Triangle of Fire".
You can greatly reduce the potential for an electrical fault to cause a fire to develop, by ensuring that you do not store combustible material (fuel) in close proximity to electrical equipment.
You can also limit a fire's available oxygen, by keeping doors to cupboards housing electrical equipment shut. Shutting doors will also hold back flame, heat and some smoke.
Shutting internal doors should be something that you do not only as part of a bedtime routine - but also whenever you leave your home unattended, as even a light internal door will prevent smoke and heat from damaging rooms and contents remote from the source of a fire.
The condition of your electrical installation should be checked by a competent person at least every 10 years.
Advice on how to arrange for your installation to be checked is available from Electrical Safety First.
Smoke alarms do save lives - as this case clearly shows.
Please make sure that you have sufficient, properly located and working smoke alarms.
Following a fatal fire in East Sussex in May 2009 which occurred in an electrical intake located in an under stair cupboard, East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service undertook an extensive investigation into the matter which eventually culminated in a report “ Fires Originating in Electrical Intakes July 2010”.