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#4565984 - 11/06/17 02:56 PM Would arc fault breakers have prevented this?
Donald Offline


Registered: 03/21/04
Posts: 20472
Loc: Upstate NY
My church had a major fire this morning.

http://wnyt.com/news/canaan-congregational-church-columbia-county-fire/4659820/?cat=10114
Columbia County church damaged by flames

The fire Dept said it was started in a 4 bulb ceiling fixture in vestibule. 3 LED bulbs and one broken socket. I installed the LED bulbs 2yrs ago. The broken socket was where someone twisted a bulb too tight and Odd the light would have been left on.

1830 church, no arc fault breakers.


Edited by Donald (11/06/17 03:09 PM)
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#4566030 - 11/06/17 03:43 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
StevieC Offline


Registered: 08/21/08
Posts: 17116
Loc: Ontario, Canada
A ground fault (GFCI) would be better because it depends on seeing an imbalance between Neutral and Hot.
Arc fault generally needs higher current to trip as I understand it and it may not see that with sparking.

In this instance because it's most likely converting the AC Voltage to DC using some sort of rectifying circuit so it may not see the arching whereas it would sense an imbalance. (I'm not an electrician though)

http://www.eaton.bz/ecm/groups/public/@pub/@electrical/documents/content/pct_346231.pdf


Edited by StevieC (11/06/17 03:47 PM)
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#4566058 - 11/06/17 04:14 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
Fsharp Offline


Registered: 12/11/15
Posts: 411
Loc: Kentucky
AFCI may have caught it as they work based on sensing irregular current flows. As such it could have sensed an arc between hot and neutral where a gfci can only sense if there’s a short to ground. Of course they make combo units which would really be best.

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#4566100 - 11/06/17 05:07 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
gathermewool Offline


Registered: 01/09/09
Posts: 6003
GFCI breaker failed to stop a smoldering issue was had (high-resistance connection likely). No spark typically mean no GFCI trip. I think the same would be true for AFCI, if all of the actual current is traveling as it should, right? In the case of the church, if the improper install of the bulbs caused a partial connection that resulted in sparks or a ground, it might have tripped.

Our condo had a couple of smoldering issues due to old aluminum wiring connections. We had an electrician mitigate by installing pig-tails and Al-coded connections/receptacles/switches/etc. Well, a neighbor had a small fire not too long after, so the same electrician (who just so happened to be related to the management association who we've just fired smirk ) replaced our breakers with GFCI breakers for only the cost of the breakers.

I was the only person who brought up the fact that there was more to the problem that needed to be looked into and I also expressed my reservations about the effectiveness of GFCI breakers mitigating potentially high-resistance connections, which were the cause of the smoldering issues, including after the mitigation. I was really taken aback when it wasn't only the electrician who got defensive of the mitigation job when I asked if the fault could possibly be the electrician's doing and that we should consider having someone else check (or maybe just spot-check) his work.

Anyway, the GFCI breakers were approved to be installed by the same electrician. Not too long after, my wife called me at work and described an acrid odor only in our bedroom. Some investigation revealed that it was the receptacle the window A/C unit was plugged into. I told her to turn it off and open the bedroom breaker, so long as it was safe to do so - it was. Turns out, we had caught it just in time. The pig-tail and purple wire nut were charred to disintegration. The SAME electrician was able to come over and assess the situation within a couple of hours. He didn't outright say it, but implied that he was doing us a solid by leaving a picnic he was at to rush over. I very quickly replied back that our complex was experiencing MORE problems since he had "upgraded" our wiring several months ago than in the entire few years I had been there.

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#4566195 - 11/06/17 06:57 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
eljefino Offline


Registered: 06/15/03
Posts: 32671
Loc: ME
Depending on how (when) was wired there could have been hot wires in that fixture all the time and a "detour" wire going down to, and back from, the switch. So the over torqued bulb/ fixture could have cut into a hot wire even if the switch was off. Weird that it would spark at some random time but I wouldn't beat yourself up over it. Stuff happens.

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#4566209 - 11/06/17 07:16 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
WANG Offline


Registered: 01/08/08
Posts: 546
Loc: North Carolina
AFCI are intended to prevent the situation that you describe here.
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#4566266 - 11/06/17 08:17 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
sleddriver Offline


Registered: 02/06/10
Posts: 4611
Loc: Central Texas
1830's?? Knob & tube wiring? Fuses or ckt brkrs?

Lots of variables to consider.
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#4566368 - 11/06/17 10:53 PM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
GMFan Offline


Registered: 12/26/07
Posts: 1898
Loc: NC
Very ironic. Had a situation a number of years ago where I troubleshooted a fixture in the vestibule I’d a church built in the 50’s. Breaker would trip whenever light was turned on. Taking apart the fixture and examining the wiring showed that heat from the bulbs over the years wore down the insulation so the hot wire was suddenly contacting the grounded metal chassis of the fixture where the wiring entered. This caused a short circuit which tripped the circuit breaker.

Thing is...old circuit breakers that haven’t been “switched” or exercised in a long long time can basically fail and bind up to where they won’t trip when there’s a fault. The breaker mechanism can basically become “stuck” and let high current above what the wiring is rated for continue until you get a fire.

This is why it is recommended to periodically “exercise” all breakers by opening and closing them multiple times. Also, any breaker over say 30 years old should probably be replaced. In fact, I’d say exercise breakers at least once a year and replace all breakers after 25 years.

Was the main panel fuses or breakers. What were type of breakers? Federal Pacific breakers are defective and have been recalled but lots are still in use.


Edited by GMFan (11/06/17 10:55 PM)
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#4566528 - 11/07/17 07:42 AM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: Donald]
caravanmike Offline


Registered: 05/09/09
Posts: 1072
Loc: ohio
Yes more info is needed! What did the insurance company's engineer say caused it? What type of breakers/ fuses?
Fire investigators sometimes don't get it right! Especially volunteer ones with little resources! My guess is if the fire depts ladder truck is a 60's Peter Pirsch, then the resources they invest in fire investigation are zero?
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#4566578 - 11/07/17 08:43 AM Re: Would arc fault breakers have prevented this? [Re: caravanmike]
Mr Nice Offline


Registered: 09/12/04
Posts: 21209
Loc: Orlando, FL
Originally Posted By: caravanmike
Yes more info is needed! What did the insurance company's engineer say caused it? What type of breakers/ fuses?
Fire investigators sometimes don't get it right! Especially volunteer ones with little resources! My guess is if the fire depts ladder truck is a 60's Peter Pirsch, then the resources they invest in fire investigation are zero?


I agree.

Its best not to do electrical work if you're not a licensed electrician and trying to help the church. A good deed comes back to bite you.


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