The current spate of fire outbreaks in urban areas in Ghana is very worrisome, I must confess. All hands must be on deck to determine the causes, suggest solutions and to punish the perpetrators (arsonists) of the crime if there is any.
I will try not to be too technical in conveying my views on the possible causes of the recent alarming fire outbreaks in Ghana to the Ghanaian public. Unless we approach the problem with a fair mind devoid of political blame-game, we shall never uncover the real causes of the problem and subsequently, may not be able to prevent their future recurrences.
Firstly, we have to look at electricity as the major cause. The current state of rampant unannounced on and off electricity supply in the country can cause fire outbreaks. The incessant power outages coupled with repeated switching on of power by the power suppliers (Electricity Company of Ghana – ECG), with the concomitant input SURGE CURRENTS created each time power is switched back on by ECG, fire can result. Surge Currents are otherwise called INRUSH CURRENT. This current could go as far as 100 times the normal current needed by the electrical device. This results in damages to the electrical appliances which may escalate into fire outbreak if the circuit is not well protected by fuses or circuit breakers. What a recipe for disaster?
“If the current is higher than a predetermined maximum, or persists beyond a determined time delay the circuit breakers will trip removing the power to the equipment” However, in Ghana where dodgy electricians or individuals help certain home owners, market stall owners etc to traffic electricity, they fail to protect the electric circuits adequately; not using correct fuses or residual circuit breakers (RCD). In the absence of any protection, the full force of the inrush current hits the electrical equipment leading to damage and or fire.
To prove my point, I will cite my own encounter with the intermittent power outages in about year 2008. I had decided to go out with friends one afternoon with the car’s ignition key turned on, friends sitting in the car waiting for me. As I left to join them in the car with a door opened for me, it struck me to feel my pockets to ensure I had my wallet on me. Unfortunately, the wallet was not. I excused them, rushed back into the room to collect it. When I opened the door, what I saw was more than it meets the eye. The entire room was full of smoke. I stood back a second, wondering what could be the cause. When I regained my senses, I could see my computer that was playing music a while ago emitting unbelievably amount of smoke. I rushed to unplug it from the mains, took it outside, flipped it over the balcony wall into the open area of the house and shouted for the attention of my friends.
This goes to prove the veracity of the biblical saying, “Count every misfortune as a blessing”. If I had not forgotten my wallet, I would have gone out to return to find the entire house probably burnt down to ashes. This incident happened because there was a momentary power outage and power back on without me turning the desktop computer (PC) off when the power went off. The power went off as I was leaving the room and came back on within minutes (as I was about to get into the car). What could have caused the problem apart from the possible input surge current when the power came back on?
Secondly, the electric wires or cables chosen to carry out the installation of electricity in our homes, market stalls, kiosks etc are also of greater essence. We must be very conscious about the quality and size of cables or wires we use for any given electrical installation – power circuit, light circuit, etc. If an inferior size electric wire, let us say, 1.5 millimetres normally used for lighting is used for power (sockets – 2.5 millimetres) or electric boilers circuits – 4.0 millimetres, the wire heats up when the load on the circuits (inductive or resistive loads) are turned on. “Voltage drop on wires due to resistance causes hotter wires and less voltage to run the devices attached to it. Planning ahead for circuit size, the distance it must travel, and what is going to be connected to it will save you money and frustration later”. Do we often abide by that principle? Heated cables or wires can cause fire outbreaks.
The quality of the wires or cables is also important. I understand the wires/cables imported from China are of low quality with the likelihood of giving in to any hazards. Mice chewing the protective coverings on the cables/wires give rise to electric sparks or cause short-circuits when two such nude cables/wires come into contact.
There is also the possibility of arsonists behind the fire outbreaks. However, I will in the meantime stick to electricity as being the major cause even though the actions of some leaders raise the stake of arson very high.
1. Correct-sized and quality cables/wires are to be used for any given specific circuits.
2. The Power suppliers (ECG) are to inform the public hours before any power outage takes place. They must advise consumers to switch off their electrical devices plugged in or switched on before they, ECG, turn off the power. This will reduce any unnecessary inrush currents into electrical appliances to cause damage and possible fires when the power is switched back on by ECG.
3. There must be trained electricians competent enough to inspect, test and certify electrical installations before ECG supplies them with power
4. Consumers are to be made aware of the hazards posed by illegal electrical connections
5. All electrical circuits must be adequately protected (using correct circuit breakers, fuses)
6. Lay mice traps in your ceilings and vantage points if you suspect them to cause damage to your wires
7. Ghanaians are to be one another’s keeper in this critical period of fire outbreaks. We have to inform the police if we suspect anyone of deliberately setting fire to homes and markets
8. We should not jump into hasty conclusions blaming our political opponents for what they may not be involved in. Until we stop that, solutions to problems will always evade us.