Power Strip Causes Springs School Fire

Dwayne Denton, an East Hampton Town fire marshal, held a melted power strip that caught fire in a Springs School classroom on Monday. “This is what can happen when power strips are overloaded,” he said. Durell Godfrey photos

A fire at the Springs School on Monday morning — Columbus Day, when classes were not in session — started with an overloaded power strip, according to the East Hampton Town fire marshal’s office.

An alarm went off at the school at about 7:30 a.m., prompting an investigation by the chief of the Springs Fire Department. A custodian had found heavy smoke in the fifth-grade science room, Dwayne Denton, a fire marshal, said on Tuesday. The chief called in firefighters at 7:46 a.m., and they quickly extinguished the blaze. 

Mr. Denton said a power strip had been overloaded with plugs, from a 175-gallon fish tank’s filter and pump to lights. It was melted and charred, and there was also damage to a cabinet that the fish tank was sitting on.

While the damage was minimal, the incident served as a good reminder, especially during National Fire Prevention Week, to use power strips properly. 

“Know your power strip,” Mr. Denton said. Power strips, which are extension cords with multiple outlets, have amperage ratings on the back that should be heeded. Most home-rated power strips can be used by devices than require less than the 15 or 20 amp rating, like cellphones or computers. 

Plugging high-voltage items not intended for ancillary power sources can cause a fire hazard. Refrigerators, microwave ovens, and space heaters should never be plugged into power strips, Mr. Denton warned. He recommended looking for strips that have a “UL Listed” mark, meaning that they meet requirements from Underwriters Laboratories, a global safety consulting and certification company. 

Also, not all power strips are surge protectors, though many people use them as such, which can lead to a costly loss of electronics during a power surge, he said. Power strips merely distribute electricity; they do not regulate power flow or prevent electrical surges.

Debra Winter, the Springs School superintendent, said she had not received a final report from the fire marshal's office or the school's insurance adjuster and could not comment on the cause. "Certainly we were very lucky that no one was in the building at the time and that our custodian who lives local, Eric Drew, immediately responded, as did the Springs Fire Department," she said in an email on Wednesday afternoon. "The fact that all our classroom doors are always closed also helped."

"Our custodians immediately checked all surge protectors to ensure they had UL labels as did the one in question," she continued. "They removed any that were not UL certified." She said the school passed its fire inspection in September.

"School was in session on Tuesday," Ms. Winter said, with the science classes meeting in other classrooms until the cleanup is complete.