The led to overheating (most likely "localised resistance heating" due to a weak / loose connection)
How this fire happened
The householder was ironing and had the tumble dryer and washing machine on when she smelt burning.
This had not set off any smoke alarms and as she could not immediately find where it was coming from, she ignored it.
Approximately 2 hours later she observed smoke coming from the consumer unit in the utility room and shortly after it burst into flame.
A workman who was also in the house at the time of the fire, pulled away coats and jackets that were near to the consumer unit and also starting to catch fire.
Electrical intakes comprise the incoming cable, service head, cut-out fuse, meter, consumer units and associated equipment.
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service attends approximately 40 fires a year involving such equipment.
Electrical intake equipment can carry high electrical loads, which even in normal operating conditions can generate heat.
In fault conditions this heat can be sufficient to ignite combustible materials if stored in close proximity.
Therefore, the risk of a fire starting and developing is increased if household items are stored too close to intake areas.
These items can also act as an insulator to prevent air flow and adequate heat exchange that is required in this equipment.
Storing items on top or immediately around this equipment may also cause mechanical damage - creating an electrocution risk in addition to the fire risk.
The hazard this creates is particularly serious if the electrical intake position is situated on or near an escape route (e.g. under stairs cupboard), as even a small fire in this equipment will create a large amount of toxic smoke very quickly, preventing a safe escape.
Ensure you know where your electrical services are located.
You are advised to:
Keep the area around your electrical intake clear of combustible material.
If housed in a cupboard - to keep the door closed.
Ensure you have an adequate number of correctly sited and working smoke detectors and know your escape plan.
Contact a qualified electrician if you have any reason to suspect damage or a fault in your electrical intake equipment.
Finally, from January 2012 Fire & Rescue Services and Electrical Safety First will be supplying caution labels to be affixed in electrical intakes.
It is expected that these labels will also be fitted during the forthcoming roll out of the national SMART meter programme.
Only allow work to be carried out by a qualified Electrician.