1. #1
    John Reagan
    Firehouse.com Guest

    Post Fish Tank Heater Failures

    Recently, I have investigated several fires originating near a fish tank. Two of the fires had limited flame damage, extensive smoke damage, and were found to be caused by the tank heater. One failure was inside the plugbody of the heater's power cord. The other was a failure on the printed circuit board in the submersible heater tube.

    I would appreciate information on any similar fires to determine if these are isolated cases or if there is a pattern of failures.

    Regards,
    John Reagan, P.E.
    Forensic Engineer-Electrical

  2. #2
    CJBFireConsultant
    Firehouse.com Guest

    Post

    John:

    I have knowledge of several of these, as I try to keep up on them. I am an avid aquarium enthusiast and personally have several large (2-55, & 1-125) tanks. There are several important factors to which you should be aware and concerned. I know some of this may sound unimportant and irrelevant, but trust me, THEY ARE VERY IMPORTANT AND ARE EXTREMELY RELEVANT in trying to render the cause of the failure. It makes a difference between manufacturer defect and owner involved issues.

    It is important to note whether the fish tank was freshwater or saltwater. The reason is somewhat obvious. Saltwater tanks are notorious for "leeching" salt from the tank, unless specific steps and continuous monitoring are strictly followed. I personally have a documented case for a friend where the salt leeched down 4'-5' below the tank, into the undertank storage stand, and into the connection between the power cord for the heater and the receptacle end of the power strip. It caused a small yet localized fire. The fire fortunately self-extinguished, saving the owner of the house from a major claim.

    It is also important for you find out what temperature the heater was set for. The warmer the water temperature for the fish, the faster evaporation of water out of the tank. Most saltwater tanks are between 75deg F (reef tank-Corals) to 82deg F (ocean tank-fish). Also, it is important to find out about the pumping and filtering systems incorporated.

    Who was the manufacturer of the heater and what model heater was it? How much Wattage was the heater rated for? There are only a few manufacturers of aquarium heaters so luckily that will help assist you in your handling of the fires.

    Finally, what was the procedure for the cleaning of the tank and water heater? Water heaters for aquariums are not supposed to be instantly removed from the water after being unplugged from the power strip/wall outlet. They require a "cool down" period inside the tank to protect the heating element and circuit board. If this is not done, most aquarium stores will warn you that the heater will break and fail within a short period of time.

    If you need any more questions answered, please feel free to contact me at your convenience.

    Chris Bloom

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