Electrical Fire: Cause and Origin

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Ronald Panunto, PE ::::

Case Synopsis:  A million dollar beach-front home was seriously damaged by a fire.  The Origin & Cause Investigator for the homeowner’s insurance provider claimed that the fire was caused by the electrical failure of a condensation pump.

Expert Analysis:  Review of the fire scene photographs showed there was considerable electrical arcing on wiring of the home’s heating system in the same area as where the condensate pump was located.  A review of the photographs of the condensate pump showed fire patterns that indicated external exposure to flames.  A request was made to the manufacturer of the condensate pump to send an exemplar pump. Upon receipt, the pump was disassembled to determine exactly how it operated.  Additionally, electrical resistance measurements of the pump motor winding were taken.  This analysis would prove to be crucial at the destructive evidence exam.

At the destructive evidence exam, the damaged pump was compared to the exemplar pump. Examination revealed that the pump suffered only external damage from a fire that started elsewhere.  Resistance readings of the damaged pump’s motor were taken and compared with the exemplar pump.  Results confirmed that the damaged pump was only damaged externally, and hence could not have started the fire.  Further testing was done to energize the pump in a bowl of water to see if it still worked. The pump started and ejected a stream of water, proving that the client’s pump could not have started the fire. 

Result:  Pump manufacturer released from case.

 

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