Thursday, April 19, 2018
Tampa Bay Weather

Take precautions to reduce fire risk once power is restored

As investigators check whether a fire that destroyed Lee Elementary School can be traced to power restoration there, people still in the dark might be wondering about the potential risks to their own homes.

There are some, experts say, and some easy ways to minimize them.

"It just takes a few seconds to do these things but it could be the difference between saving your home and losing it," said Ralph Fehr, an electrical engineering professor at the University of South Florida's College of Engineering. "It would be a shame if your home did fine in the wind and water but burned down because of an electrical issue."

RELATED: Power restored to 2.8 million Florida homes, businesses since Monday

Flames tore through Lee Elementary on Tuesday evening, causing the roof to collapse on the 111-year-old building. Officials say the structure is likely a total loss.

The cause of the fire was still under investigation Wednesday, but fire officials said they were working to determine whether the blaze might have been sparked when power was restored to the building. Residents in the neighborhood reported power had begun to come on in their homes just before they saw flames. Cherie Jacobs, a spokeswoman for Tampa Electric Co., said the company's equipment does not appear to be involved in the school fire.

One way a fire could start when power is restored after a storm is when electrical wiring get wets from water intrusion, Fehr said.

"That could lead to a short circuit that could start a fire," Fehr said.

RELATED: Flames consume Robert E. Lee Elementary in Tampa Heights (w/video)

Any heat-generating appliances, like a stove, hair dryer, iron, that were turned on at the time the power went out will turn on again when the power comes on and create a fire hazard if they're unattended.

The solution to these potential problems is simple: Turn off the main breaker in the house when no one is home. When power is restored, switch on the breaker and remain in the home, listening for unusual sights and odors that could indicate an electrical problem. If something looks, sounds or smells suspicious, switch off the main breaker.

"You certainly want to be very, very vigilant," Fehr said.

There are potential risks outside the home, too.

The line from the utility pole into the building often runs overhead, making it vulnerable to damage from wind and debris.

The utility company is responsible for making sure the line is undamaged, but utility lineman can't always get onto your property to do a complete inspection. What's more, the sheer volume of homes during a mass outage means problems can be missed.

"Go outside and examine those wires," said Nick Marra, co-owner of CJS Electric Inc. in Tampa. "Make sure nothing looks broken or exposed."

The St. Petersburg Police Department sent out this safety warning on Wednesday: It's dangerous for people to use pigtail dryer power cords to hook up generators to their electric panels to power up their homes. That could "energize the lines back to the main transformer and downed lines and electrocute the power workers," police said. It could also destroy the generator.

If you spot something suspicious, call the power company. And when the power comes back on, remember that potential damage to that outside line is a reason to monitor your home for signs of fire.

One of Marra's service calls during a previous storm illustrates the potential danger.

Winds from the storm knocked a tree onto a homeowner's line, breaking it at a point inside the house, Marra recalled.

"It just shorted out," she said, "and caught the house on fire inside the attic."

Contact Tony Marrero at [email protected] or (813) 226-3374. Follow @tmarrerotimes.

Comments
Forecast: Clear skies for Tampa Bay lead to a hot, humid and rainy weekend

Forecast: Clear skies for Tampa Bay lead to a hot, humid and rainy weekend

Expect warm weather, clear skies and a slight increase in humidity across Tampa Bay in the next few days, before an incoming cold front raises the chance for rain.Temperatures this morning are in the low 60s with a little bit of damp air. The dry air...
Published: 04/19/18
Forecast: Warm weather continues for Tampa Bay, but humidity and clouds are returning

Forecast: Warm weather continues for Tampa Bay, but humidity and clouds are returning

The temporary cool weather has come to an end as temperatures rise back up to the lower 80s by Wednesday afternoon. Morning commuters can expect temperatures in the upper 50s throughout most of Tampa Bay, according to the National Weather Service. Bu...
Published: 04/18/18
Dreaded ‘cone of uncertainty’ will shrink for the coming hurricane season

Dreaded ‘cone of uncertainty’ will shrink for the coming hurricane season

The National Hurricane Center plans to shrink the dreaded "cone of uncertainty" during the upcoming season based on an improving forecast record.The Miami-based center made the announcement Monday, along with a series of other changes intended to imp...
Published: 04/17/18
Forecast: Clear skies, abundant sunshine ahead for Tampa Bay

Forecast: Clear skies, abundant sunshine ahead for Tampa Bay

Tampa Bay will be warming up today and by the afternoon clear skies and sunshine promise ideal conditions without an abundance of humidity.But Tuesday morning started a little chilly with temperatures in upper 50s before sunrise. By afternoon, temper...
Published: 04/17/18
Forecast: Cool and windy, a day after tornado touches down in St. Petersburg

Forecast: Cool and windy, a day after tornado touches down in St. Petersburg

TAMPA — Now that Sunday’s powerful front — which actually spawned a tornado and several reported waterspouts — has moved out of Tampa Bay, the start of the work week brings sunny skies, but much cooler temperatures.This comes a day after the front ge...
Published: 04/16/18
Forecast: Tornado watch expanded to all counties in Tampa Bay

Forecast: Tornado watch expanded to all counties in Tampa Bay

ST. PETERSBURG — A tornado watch is in effect in every county surrounding Tampa Bay, and the region can expect thunderstorms and strong winds Sunday, which could make water activities dangerous.With a high of 83 degrees, the morning should be cloudy ...
Published: 04/15/18
Forecast: Warm, pleasant weekend for Tampa Bay before severe storms arrive Sunday

Forecast: Warm, pleasant weekend for Tampa Bay before severe storms arrive Sunday

The Tampa Bay area’s recent run of abundant sunshine and clear skies will extend into the weekend, but it will come to a screeching halt when severe weather sweeps in on Sunday morning.The National Weather Service has issued a severe thunderstorm war...
Published: 04/13/18
Hurricane names Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate being retired

Hurricane names Harvey, Irma, Maria and Nate being retired

MIAMI — The names of four deadly hurricanes that slammed parts of the United States, Central America and the Caribbean last year are being retired.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Thursday that hurricane names Harvey, Irm...
Published: 04/12/18
Forecast: Pleasant sunshine into weekend for Tampa Bay, but Sunday thunderstorms ahead

Forecast: Pleasant sunshine into weekend for Tampa Bay, but Sunday thunderstorms ahead

Today should be a little warmer and a bit drier than Wednesday as Tampa Bay continues to enjoy a mostly sunny end of the week.After a few intense thunderstorms on Tuesday left little humidity around the bay area, Thursday should see a perfectly dry, ...
Published: 04/12/18
Forecast: Tuesday rain yields to slightly cloudy, breezy day for Tampa Bay

Forecast: Tuesday rain yields to slightly cloudy, breezy day for Tampa Bay

The rain that has drenched Tampa Bay since Tuesday afternoon should disperse a few hours after sunrise. Areas across the I-4 corridor will see small scattered showers and some heavy muggy weather early Wednesday morning but all of that will dry up by...
Published: 04/11/18