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Old 11-22-2008, 12:39 AM   #1
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Hi. Just the other day, the kitchen was chilly. I turned my GE electric oven on "warm" and opened the oven door a little. The oven was very clean, no food or crumbs inside. Walking by, I noticed the bottom heating coil had a spot where it was glowing red...which does not normally happen. While I looked down at the odd sight, the glowing red spot suddenly erupted into a little flame, about 1 1/2" tall.

Quickly turned the oven to "off" and shut the oven door. Little flame continued to burn. I opened the oven door and dumped a BIG pile of dry flour on top of the little flame! That should have really smothered the little flame.... Shut the door again.

That didn't help.

Little flame continued, and grew..., maybe about 6" or tall by then, spreading along the coil, a developing ring of fire. It burned past where I had dumped the pile of flour! It seemed to be unstoppable, invinceable! Scary! Staying calm, trying to figure this out super-fast...Figuring that the flame was being fueled by electricity (since there didn't seem to be anything else that could possibly be fueling it), I pulled the oven out from the wall and unplugged it. Instantly the flame went out, as soon as it was unplugged. That's when I realized that my knees were weak and my heart was going to pound right out of my chest...considering what might have been...

The scary part of this, for me, is that we were to leave the house in about 5 minutes for an appointment.....and would have been away for hours. If I had not noticed that little glow...if I had just turned the oven off and left quickly...maybe we would have come home later to a big bonfire.

The history behind this oven: it was given to us by friends who were remodeling. They said the bottom coil had once caught fire. The husband had been there to put out the fire, and had replaced the coil, and it was fine now with the new coil. That was about a year ago. So, after about a year, the replaced oven coil catches fire...there's an erie pattern developing here!

Why did it catch fire? Are electric oven coils flammable? Is this an unsafe oven which needs to be dismantled and put into landfill, or is this a fixable problem?

Ideas and suggestions?

Our homeowners insurance would cover replacement of the oven, but that would kick in a 3-year surcharge penalty for filing a claim. We'd have to pay the deductible. Wouldn't likely be worth filing.

What brand of oven would you recommend or not recommend for replacement choice?

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Old 11-22-2008, 02:24 AM   #2
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


You did good & bad with your fire incident.

GOOD you closed the door and shut off the power

BAD you opened the door, allowing fresh oxygen to the fire scene
BAD you dumped flour on the fire, flour as you noticed, burns. flour dust can also explode. In an oven, probably not a real concern.

GOOD you turned off the breaker.

BAD, VERY BAD! You apparntly did not call the Fire department. Always call the FD, they really like to drive the truck to the scene. The only time the truck company is allowed out of the station is for emergency calls.

GOOD,you are thinking of replacing the stove or having it fixed.

Next time you have a cooking fire,
1. Close the door to the fire or put a lid on the pan
2. Call the FD
3. If it is safe and you are comfortable with using a fire extinguihser, use it. Never allow your self to be in a posiciton where the fire is between you and the exit. You can also use baking soda or salt on a cooking fire. Never dump water on a cooking fire. it can cause the fire to increase in size.
4. Get out and stay out! Take a phone with you and stay out until the FD arrives.

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Old 11-22-2008, 04:20 PM   #3
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Thanks, fireguy. Great instructions to review!

This coil fire was surprising, in a clean, completely empty oven. I didn't know clean oven coils could catch fire?

Why did it not stop when I turned the oven off? Why did it keep spreading until it was unplugged from the wall?

I didn't flip the breaker, as box is all the way downstairs, quicker to just unplug the stove. One less "GOOD" for me.

My 12-year-old was at home with me...he was at the door ready to run out, phone in hand, asking if he should call 911 now. Watching his mother react. *sigh* The whole event was super-fast, probably all done before he would have had time to give the 911 operator our address, In less than a minute, I turned off the oven, threw flour, and unplugged while he was getting the phone in hand and punching in the 911 numbers. He was totally prepared to make that call if the unplugging didn't stop it. Maybe he gets a "GOOD"?

Another odd thing is that the flour did not burn. The flame just kind of side-stepped the flour and continued on down the bare coil, seemingly without any fuel except electricity.
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Old 11-22-2008, 05:22 PM   #4
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


I have worked in the electrical field for over 30 years have never head of a heating element that would burn.
Though they have amended the fire triangle to include chemical reaction - I still believe in the original 3: heat, fuel, and oxygen.

I think you just over reacted to a grease spot burning on the electric element and adding the flour was just more fuel to burn, by the time you unplugged it, it had burned itself out. Electricity doesn't make fire all it can do is add heat to the process, the hidden pepperoni from the pizza you baked the night before was the fuel.

Fireguy is right on with his advice, leaving the door closed would of been the best thing to do until it burned out. I keep two $15 type abc fire extinguishers in my house, one by the kitchen exit and the other by the house exit. Extinguishes are not recommended for grease fires because it can blow the burning grease around, just cover with a lid or another big pan/pot.
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Old 11-22-2008, 07:32 PM   #5
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Hi. I am extremely ill-informed in the field of electricity, which is why I posted here where the informed people hang out! I appreciate the replies. Just trying to figure out what happened.

I didn't think heating elements should burn. So, you are saying that there had to have been something flammable spilled on the element? It could not have been caused by any electrical short or malfunction?

Coincidence is that this oven's previous owner said the bottom heating element caught fire a little over a year ago. He fixed the oven by replacing the burned-up element with a brand new one. Seems like a strange coincidence for the same thing to happen again.

The newer, replaced heating element always heated disproportionately hotter than the top element, so I could not bake anything unless it was way up on the top rack of the oven, or it would burn on the bottom. The tops of my casseroles would be underdone, and the bottoms would be overdone. I put a baking stoneware sheet under anything I baked, to shield it from the bottom heat. I just figured the newer element worked great and the older element was slowing down.

That oven didn't get a lot of use here. We don't use pepperoni at all...nothing greasy...and I have not baked anything in the oven that dripped over the edge of the pan or could possibly have dripped or splattered grease. So, the burning spilled food idea seemed so unlikely.

When I turned off the oven and closed the oven door, before adding flour, the flames continued to advance along that element, getting higher and covering a wider area like a ring of fire. Didn't slow down at all. Did I just not wait long enough?

It did go from actively burning to instantly stopping as soon as it was unplugged. If it had gradually slowed down after being unplugged, looking like it was burning itself out, I would not have suspected a malfunction fueled by electricity.

The flour didn't ever catch fire, although it seems now that it should have. But it did not.

Another question: If electricity was not fueling the fire, and if it were just an unlikely but invisible layer of grease burning on the outside of the heating element, then why did I need to unplug the oven or trip the breaker? Would that even be relevant?

Good placement and knowlege of how to use the extinguishers is great advice for potential emergencies.-
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Old 11-22-2008, 08:12 PM   #6
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


The pepperoni comment was said tongue and cheek. They could of put the wrong wattage element in when it was replaced but the oven control would of still kept it at the right temperature, though a higher wattage element would give a hot spot close by before the temp control could turn it off.

Stove elements like the ones in water heaters and dishwashers are pretty much all the same - the electrical current is carried by a tungsten wire embedded in ceramic then encased in a steel, really nothing to burn.

My guess is by way of your explanation is that the oven control has malfunctioned and continued to heat after being turned off, it could have shorted because of an over sized element, but what was actually burning is still perplexing. A manufacturing impurity is one thing that comes to mind.

Having a fire extinguisher in the cabinet above the stove is a bad placement, you would be surprised how many people keep them there and then can't get to it because of the fire. I like the abc dry type because they coat the fuel with a dust that cuts off the supply of oxygen and is easier to cleanup.

Many years ago I put a TV dinner in the microwave and because I broke the glass platter in the bottom I used the box it came in to hold it off the bottom, I accidentally punched in 50 minuets instead of 5 minutes and got side tracked, it started a fire and stunk the place up for weeks.
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Old 11-22-2008, 11:36 PM   #7
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Let's give that boy a big "AttaBoy" for knowing what to do and not loosing his cool.

I was wondering about the element and control,but I am not an electrician. Mr. Hychesee's explanation sounds feasable. Get an appliance repairman in to look at the stove.

His comments about not putting an extinguisher above the stove is a good idea. Each home should have at least one extinguisher. The extinguisher should be rated at 2A10BC at a minimum. Don't buy an extinguisher with a plastic valve assembly, they are of low quality. my company will not recharge those things. Put it near an exit and have it inspected by an professional agency. Do not take it to the local FD, they usually know nothing about extinguishers. Before any firefighters jump on me, my fire service includes volunteer, paid on call, industrial brigade, paid full time and a couple of years wearing a white hat. Add 30 years running my own fire equipment business.

We got a call of oven on fire. We roll up and go in to see what the problem is. The housewife opened the oven door and sure enough, there was a fire inside. There was also every pan she owned, each of which had grease in it. I closed the door and the captain started his report. In a couple of minutes she opened the door, even though she was told not to. the fire flared up again. She shut the door, and opened it up again. That time I shut the door and leaned against the door so she could not open it again. After a bit, the fire cooled down so we could open the door w/o the fire flaring up. Sometimes the best part of the job was the stories we told when we got back to the station. Fortunatly,your story had a good ending. Fix the stove, and next time, call the FD out. A hint, firemen like home baked cookies and bread.
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Old 11-23-2008, 09:19 AM   #8
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Occasionally electric heating elements including stove burners can develop a thin spot as they age. That spot gets hotter than the rest of the element. In your case you noticed that spot; it got brighter red.

I'm almost positvely sure that your oven element was not exactly clean, namely had some (flammable) grease on it. And, are you sure the flour was not additional fuel for a fire? Almost everything dry and organic will burn. Use baking soda, not flour.

I once had an electric stove one of whose burners had a thin spot from day one. Fortunately the manufacturer replaced that burner under warranty.

I don't think any electric ovens have both upper and lower elements on at the same time for cooking. So if you replaced one element with one that worked but was the wrong kind, you should not have any problems with the bottom of the casserole staying raw while the top got burned, etc. It is possible that you would have to relabel the temperature scale on the knob.

Turning off the breaker probably did not make any difference in this situation, but it is good to get in the habit of turning off the breaker in case of an electrical problem.

Last edited by AllanJ; 11-23-2008 at 09:30 AM.
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Old 11-23-2008, 09:40 AM   #9
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


in case of sudden little fire, beth, I would've added a huge helping of SALT!!

it will suffocate the air around the fire as it is naturally supposed to do

Last edited by Pipeline; 11-23-2008 at 09:43 AM.
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Old 11-23-2008, 09:40 AM   #10
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Glad things worked out o.k. as far as the fire.

I didnt go to a lotta college but two coils and two fires in a year or so aint right. Assuming the coils were relatively clean..

I would check the serial/model number at cpsc.gov and GE.com and see if there hasnt been either a recall or reports of issues. You may even want to register the unit at GE in case there are future issues so they can contact you.

I would also strongly suggest a factory certified GE tech fully examine the entire unit before its even plugged back in.
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Old 11-23-2008, 01:54 PM   #11
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


A lot of good advise here. I just want to add, stop using your oven for a space heater. With the door open even a little the oven cannot heat up properly to have the heater control to come up to temp, so it runs harder. The unit should be able to handle it but as in your case with the fire. There is also more air getting in to oven and a easy way threw the door opening for the flames to spread if it did get carried away. I belive that the element probably did have impurities that caused it to flame. You also could have stuck on contacts in the control contributing to the overheat condition. ( this may also help explan it aperantly not suting off)

I would recommend doing a web search of your model of oven and see if there have been any safety recalls.
They may have had a group of bad heater elements and most likely would of found out about them and had a recall. This doesn't mean the old parts came completely out of circulation. So the replacement possibly could of been from the same group. If there is they may cover the repairs it may not even matter how old it is. It would be worth looking into.
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Old 11-23-2008, 02:01 PM   #12
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


the only oven I would trust for heating air in a room is a convection [most people do not have that].


There are space heaters that will do the job better than an oven will anyway
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Old 11-23-2008, 09:39 PM   #13
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Quote:
Originally Posted by Pipeline View Post
the only oven I would trust for heating air in a room is a convection [most people do not have that].


There are space heaters that will do the job better than an oven will anyway

Don't even trust the convection. Ovens are not meant to run with a open door unless they are a commercial conveyer type with open sides. In a emergency it would be possible to use but DO NOT RUN A OPEN OVEN UNATTENDED. They are not tested or build this way. The convection has air flow inside to help cool the element in a open condition but the oven will not heat up to shut down the burner with the door open so it will still have a much heavier work cycle the when it would be used as intended with the door shut.

So when beth does get the oven working safely again a space heater in the kitchen would be safer to get off the chill then tring to use a oven.

Altho, In colder weather after using the oven for cooking and then shuting it off I will usally keep the door open a crack to let the heat out.
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Old 11-23-2008, 09:52 PM   #14
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Sounds like you just need a new bake element...Kind of unusual for it to go out in a year...Maybe it was longer than that...It"s possible the oven switch went bad at the same time and kept power on the element...When you have the element replaced you will know right away if there are any more problems...Hopefully not..Jim..
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Old 11-24-2008, 04:22 PM   #15
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SCARY oven fire! Why did it burn?


Convection oven do work harder with the door ajar but it does keep the heat going. With the door shut the heat will rise and fall, repeat.

But I, for one, would not use the oven to heat anything more than food.

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