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East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo
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Fire caused by a cut out fuse overheating

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Damage to wiring

Damage to wiring

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Smoke damage can be seen around the top of the front door

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Smoke damage to ceiling and walls

Smoke damage to ceiling and walls

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."

Safety message

Ensure you have an adequate number of properly sited smoke detectors and know what to do in case of fire.

Electrical energy can create heat – and under fault conditions this can lead to fire.

A properties electrical intake distributes all the electrical energy to the home and therefore can be vulnerable to fault conditions that could lead to overheating and fire.

In order to help prevent any fault leading to a fire do not store combustible items close to this equipment.

Ensure your electrical equipment is properly installed and maintained by an appropriately competent person.

Further information

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”.

More information on the report and additional resources

Do you have a similar story?

Finally, we would be interested to hear from you if you have had a similar experience to the fire detailed above, or would like to raise any related matters or even just generally comment on how useful you found our Black Museum.

Please send us your details and a comments via our on-line feedback form.



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Latest Update :
01 October 2020
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