Faulty wiring sparked house fire
By Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published July 24, 2003


CLEARWATER - A fire that destroyed a Countryside area home Tuesday afternoon was caused by an electrical wiring failure, fire officials said.

The fire caused about $325,000 damage to the structure and its contents. The home, at 2890 Sea Pines Circle, is owned by John and Kathleen Chigos.

Their 13-year-old daughter was at the home with two friends Tuesday afternoon when the power went out. They soon found smoke pouring from the garage. A lawn worker tried to douse the fire with an extinguisher. He reported that the fire appeared to originate from a breaker panel, which was spitting sparks.

The girls inside the home escaped with two dogs while the worker dialed 911. Firefighters arrived in minutes, but the fire soon grew out of control. It took about an hour to tame, but not before it ripped through the roof and coughed out rolling, bright-orange flames.

The Chigos family was staying with relatives Wednesday, fire officials said.

The fire occurred because the home is equipped with aluminum wiring, which disappeared from building codes about 20 years ago, said Joel Gray, an investigator for the Clearwater Fire Department.

He said aluminum wiring expands and contracts more than copper, which can loosen connections throughout a home. The wire then develops a "glowing connection," which occurred Tuesday in the home's breaker box. That connection caused a dead short. That not only caused the breaker box to catch fire, but it shot a surge throughout the house, burning receptacles, Gray said.

Power also shot into the air handler in the attic, sparking a fire there.

When firefighters arrived at the home, they attacked the fire in the garage while the flames in the attic swept through the house. Within minutes, flames were shooting through the roof, Gray said.

While replacing a home's wiring is difficult, Gray said homeowners can hire a certified electrical contractor to inspect wiring to ensure the lugs are tight and there is no corrosion.