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Using Drip Loops Could Save Your Fish and Your Home

Blaze Fire Investigation is now know as Anderson Engineering. (updated 6/28/17)

Saltwater aquariums are fascinating and beautiful.  Having a little piece of the ocean inside your home has been attracting hobbyist for years.   However, not all hobbyists are aware of the dangers and risks that are associated with keeping a saltwater aquarium.

It was the start of a beautiful day in Memphis, TN until the owners of a 90 gallon saltwater aquarium woke up to the smoke alarm sounding in their home.  They ran into the living room and saw flames shooting up behind their aquarium.  They immediately grabbed the phone, called 9-1-1 and ran out of the house.  The fire department came and extinguished the fire. Unfortunately, the glass tank broke during the course of the fire and all the aquarium inhabitants were lost.

Our team of experts examined and photographed the fire scene and collected all of the aquarium equipment in the home. The aquarium equipment consisted of a water pump, heater, protein skimmer and two fluorescent light fixtures.  All of this equipment was plugged into a relocatable power tap that was located on the floor behind the aquarium.  A detailed examination of all of the aquarium equipment showed the most severe damage was located at the power tap.  The power tap’s plastic housing was melted and charred and sections of the hot and neutral busses were visible.  See photographs below.

A simple drip loop would have prevented this damage and resulting fire.A simple drip loop would have prevented this damage and resulting fire.

The hot and neutral busses showed evidence of melting and a short section of both of the buses was melted away.  Analysis showed that arcing occurred between the line and neutral busses in the power tap.  These busses are normally separated by an air gap and insulating plastic material.  In order for an arcing event to occur internal to the power tap, a current path must be established across the insulating materials.  Arcing across an insulating material is known as arc tracking and is commonly due to contamination on the insulating surfaces.  In this case the contamination was caused by the saltwater from the aquarium. 

Power taps used with aquarium equipment should be mounted vertically to avoid moisture falling into them.  Drip loops should also be used on power cords that enter the aquarium to avoid water flowing down the cord and into the power tap. If you are a hobbyist and own an aquarium, make sure you use drip loops and that you are using your equipment safely. 

What is hidden in that piece of char?
Space heaters, use with caution!