Hazel Park home catches fire due to circuit overload

Fire chief says occupants appear to have been stealing electricity

By: Andy Kozlowski | Madison - Park News | Published December 20, 2016

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HAZEL PARK — What at first seemed to be a house fire caused by space heaters now appears to be a case of overloaded circuits due to stealing electricity from a DTE power box.

The fire occurred around noon on Dec. 10 in the 35000 block of Harding Street in Hazel Park. The building is a one-story bungalow, about 900 square feet.

The fire started in the attic but was swiftly contained by Hazel Park firefighters and automatic mutual aid from Ferndale and Madison Heights.

“From the time of the call at 11:59 a.m., when my captain announced on the radio he was responding to a fire around the corner on Harding, it only took four minutes for my crew to knock out, which is just outstanding,” said Hazel Park Fire Chief Richard Story.

He said it’s fortunate that the fire occurred during the day, when the homeowner was around to notice it. Had it occurred at night, it could have ended in death, the chief said.

At first, investigators thought that the five space heaters in the attic might have caused the blaze. But upon closer inspection, it was reportedly found that the occupants had tapped a DTE power box to steal electricity. The setup overloaded circuits and caused the fire.

It appears that Consumer Energy had shut off their gas, Story said, so the homeowners were using space heaters to stay warm and stealing electricity to pay for the power. It’s a crime, he said, but at press time, there were no charges so far.

“Luckily, (the homeowner) didn’t try to put out the fire himself,” Story said. “He immediately called 911.”

Story said he’s sympathetic to people who are struggling to pay for utilities, but the man’s actions put his family and neighbors in grave peril.

“He knew he was doing something wrong, yet he proceeded to do it,” Story said. “I’m sympathetic to a point, but he could’ve killed his whole family. If it had happened in the middle of the night, it likely would have. He was working on a plug in the house and it wouldn’t provide power for him, and then it sparked and he smelled smoke, which is when he looked in the attic and called us about the fire.”

While the space heaters weren’t to blame, Story still put in a word of caution about their use in cold weather.

“Space heaters are meant to supplement the primary heating unit of your home; they’re not meant to heat a home. That’s why they’re little — they keep your feet warm, not your whole house,” Story said.

He said space heaters should always have several feet of clearance, and one should never use extension cords or place cords where people may step on them, causing them to downgrade and possibly catch fire. Also, do not exceed one space heater per room. Multiple space heaters should not be plugged into the same socket, either.

“And don’t leave them on unattended,” Story said. “Same with Christmas lights.”