A Troubling Mystery

I had an unexpected event occur yesterday and, honestly, it’s got me a bit concerned. Yesterday, while making breakfast, one of the outlets by the range started smoking. Nothing was plugged into it and nothing splashed onto it, but a trickle of smoke was there, nonetheless. After quickly throwing the breaker and allowing it to cool down I removed the faceplate and found this:



With no specific electrical experience, I wasn’t sure where to turn. I decided to stop by the local fire department to see if they had any thoughts. They didn’t have any specific comments, but did recommend talking to the local building and safety department which should provide some good perspective. If there’s some defect or age-related problem, I certainly want to know so I can take the necessary steps to remediate it.

What’s got me concerned is the unclear cause. Honestly, it’s a blessing that I was standing right next to it. If we weren’t home, there’s a chance there wouldn’t be a home to be sitting in right now to write this. Without knowing the root cause, it’s a bit hard to sleep comfortably at night.

I called building and safety today, but with the holiday, I wasn’t surprised to only get voicemail. I’ll be staying home tomorrow to see if I can learn something useful. I won’t be comfortable until I do.

 Update (02/19/13):

I visited my local city hall and spoke with a gentleman from building and safety. He was quite helpful partially due to the fact he was a professional electrician before becoming a building inspector. He mentioned that about 90% of all house fires are due to situations like this. What likely happened was that a downstream outlet was pulling some significant current that ended up arcing through the neutral screw terminal. While it was 12 gauge wire, if they aren’t screwed down tightly or completely, it can end up arcing.

At this point, I’m satisfied that the replacement outlet or any other ones won’t just spontaneously ignite (like when we’re not home), but will certainly entertain evaluating all of the kitchen outlets for proper condition. On the plus side, I now have a bonus fourth day to my three-day weekend.

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