Hidden dangers

  • Shannon Sessions<br>Lynnwood / Mountlake Terrace Enterprise editor
  • Monday, March 3, 2008 6:40am

LYNNWOOD — Nationally, there are 22,000 mobile home fires a year, according to the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A recent fire in the Kingsbury West mobile home park in Lynnwood was added to the list.

While smoking and cooking are often reasons fires start in general, fire officials said, it was the aluminum wiring throughout the mobile home that caused this fire. A 54-year-old man who lived there wasn’t home and no one else was hurt, the trailer is a total loss, fire officials said.

According to the CPSC, most mobile homes built between 1965 and 1976 were wired with aluminum wiring because it was less expensive to do so. These homes are 50 times more likely to have an electrical fire than those with copper wiring, said Peter Van Giesen, code enforcement officer for Lynnwood.

“Mobile homes with aluminum wiring account for the majority of mobile home fires in the United States,” Van Giesen said.

Out of the 580 mobile homes in Lynnwood alone, 450 of them were built during the time frame in which aluminum wiring was used, he said.

According to Mountlake Terrace officials, there are about 105 mobile homes in its city, but it is unclear how many are within the aluminum wiring time frame.

This alone is a fire hazard to those who live in them, he said.

To add to the danger, especially this time of year, folks start using more space heaters to keep warm, the problem with this in mobile homes that have the aluminum wiring, Van Giesen said, is that the wiring can’t take the electrical load and eventually starts a fire.

Kitty Sagdahl, owner of the mobile home that burnt down at Kingsbury West on Jan. 3, said her son Steven “Mike” Sagdahl, who was living there at the time, was using space heaters to save money.

“We had no idea we shouldn’t use space heaters if we have aluminum wiring,” Kitty Sagdahl said. “If we had known, we would have taken steps to prevent the fire from happening.”

Kitty Sagdahl, who lives in a mobile home in South Everett, said she knows many other residents in her park alone who use the space heaters as well to economize.

“I’m going to keep this in mind and tell other people around here about it too,” she said.

It isn’t unusual to find people in these older, aluminum-wired homes to be using space heaters as their primary source of heat, Van Giesen said.

Because the homes are older, the furnace in them eventually stops working correctly and the owners can’t get parts to fix them because they’re obsolete, he said. So instead of taking on the expense to buy a new one, they use space heaters.

The problem is these circuits weren’t designed to have the load a space heater has on them.

According to Van Giesen, the aluminum gets hot easier and each time it’s turned off and back on, the wires change shape. Eventually the wire bends around the screw which causes it to spark and starts a fire inside the wall of the mobile home.

“A lot of times these smaller, older homes have a lot of stuff in them and with few windows and only one exit, if it catches on fire, it will go really fast,” Van Giesen said.

In an effort to prevent future fires and/or injury, city officials are going to mobile home parks around the city to educate the homeowners about the risk and how they should have a professional inspect and maintain their wiring.

They also warn: “Using space heaters as a primary heat source in mobile homes with aluminum wiring is unsafe.”

Hazel Steele, who has lived in her 1968 mobile home since 1969, she said, was one of the mobile home owners contacted Jan. 17 by both Van Giesen and Lynnwood fire marshal John Conderman.

Steele said she uses her electrical furnace only for heat.

“I wouldn’t use one of those space heaters, they scare me,” Steele said.

Fires like this usually start out slow and aren’t noticed until the whole inside of a wall is ablaze, Conderman said.

While homes with this wiring are at risk, Conderman said, fires can be prevented.

“People need to take care of what they have, don’t misuse it and don’t neglect to look for indicators that would warn of a fire,” Conderman said.

Anyone with questions or concerns should contact either PeterVan Giesen or John Conderman at 425-775-1971.