A residential fire totaled a house in the Mendenhall Valley on May 30, 2022, possibly caused by electrical issues. (Courtesy photo / Dan Jager)

A residential fire totaled a house in the Mendenhall Valley on May 30, 2022, possibly caused by electrical issues. (Courtesy photo / Dan Jager)

CCFR: Electrical issues may have caused Monday house fire

Hot, dry conditions are creating ideal conditions for grass fires elsewhere in Juneau

Old wiring or a faulty timer device may have been the cause of a Monday morning fire that destroyed a Mendenhall Valley residence.

The single occupant of the residence was treated for smoke inhalation and released with no injuries, said Capital City Fire/Rescue fire marshal Dan Jager in a news release.

“We got the call at about 5:10 (a.m.). The first personnel showed up within about 5:15,” Jager said in a phone interview. “We didn’t have enough personnel initially. We had to get enough people and then start knocking (the fire) down from the outside initially so we could see the roof and wall integrity.”

The resident, who was not named in accordance with department policy, stated they had been alerted to the fire by an explosion and that the house had rapidly filled with smoke, Jager said. The occupant attempted to retrieve some personal items and pets from the fire before attempting unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire with a garden hose, Jager said.

More than 50 percent of the house was actively burning when CCFR personnel engaged the fire, Jager said. The house was a total loss, according to the social media post, with an estimated cost of $350,000. The house was insured, according to the social media post.

The occupant was taken to Bartlett Regional Hospital for evaluation but was released uninjured, according to the news release.

Older wiring

The initial investigation into the cause revealed a timing device on an extension cord that a number of electrical items were plugged into, Jager said.

“It is undetermined if the timing device operated as designed to turn off the appliances in use,” the news release said.

The house, which was built in 1961, had its original wiring in, which could also have contributed, Jager said.

“When houses were built back in the 60s and 70s, aluminum wire was pretty popular. Aluminum has been replaced with copper,” Jager said. “Just because a house has old wiring doesn’t mean the house is a fire hazard. If it starts drawing more than it’s designed safely for, that’s where there could be issues.”

Older electrical outlets can also get loose with use over the years, meaning the plug doesn’t seat as securely and creates an arc risk, Jager said. Many older outlets also lack a grounding plug aperture.

“Without a ground you could have an issue where it doesn’t properly ground out and you could have arcing and sparking,” Jager said. “I have no idea how many houses in Juneau are built like that.”

The best way to check what risk a house’s wiring may pose is by contacting an electrician, Jager said.

High temperatures and low humidity for Juneau caused the National Weather Service to issue a warning on May 31, 2022 about the risk of fires in grass and bushes from outdoor burning. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

High temperatures and low humidity for Juneau caused the National Weather Service to issue a warning on May 31, 2022 about the risk of fires in grass and bushes from outdoor burning. (Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire)

Fire risk elsewhere

The National Weather Service issued a fire risk warning Tuesday morning for the region driven by high temperatures and low humidity.

“Fine fuels are dry and there is a risk of campfires getting out of control,” the NWS statement said. “All individuals are encouraged to be mindful of the dry and warm conditions during the remainder of this week.”

Grasses and brushes can ignite very quickly with the humidity this low, Jager said, with the chance of winds fanning a blaze increasing the risk.

“When the humidity gets below 30 percent, that’s a critical point for us. It means grasses and brush can ignite very fast. Use extreme caution for burning or outdoor fires,” Jager said. “If you have grass or trees next to it, go someplace far away so the fire doesn’t have a chance.”

Have a water source handy if you plan to have a fire, Jager said, or hand tools to throw dirt and extinguish an outbreak. Safest is to have any fires far away from grass, low brush or trees which could rapidly catch alight and carry the fire, Jager said.

• Contact reporter Michael S. Lockett at 757-621-1197 or mlockett@juneauempire.com.

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