Fire - The Snake that Started a Fire

Golden’s Believe It or Not!

Occasionally we come across a fire cause that is hard to believe! Anytime a combustible (burnable) material comes in a contact with a heat source that raises the material to its ignition temperature, a fire can occur. We have seen a crystal ball placed on a bed and sunshine refracting through the ball set the bed on fire. Cats have knocked over candles and set curtains on fire. Dogs have jumped up on ranges after a box of pizza and turned a burner on, and so on. (Yes, it all happened)

But when I was retained to investigate a fire where a technician was running a plumber’s snake to clean out tree roots from a sewage waste line, I was skeptical…

The Story Starts with a Call to the Tech

The technician was sent out to a residence that was experiencing sewage back-ups. As there were trees near the underground lateral to the sewage main in the street, obstruction by tree roots was diagnosed. The technician utilized a “plumber’s snake”, which is a rotating flexible cable, and had a cutting head for this application. The technician initially had trouble getting the snake into the waste pipe access in the crawlspace. He then removed a toilet in the main bath to insert the snake and started to guide the device. These actions are standard practice.

What happened next can easily happen to anyone who works in this business.

Instead of going downward into the piping and outward from the foundation wall, the snake found its way to a vent pipe up to the roof.

vent pipe and plumber snake

These vent pipes are necessary to vent gases into the plumbing system. The snake emerged rotating onto the roof.  Normally the technician would hear the snake rotating on the roof, realize what is happening, and removed the snake, and try again – suffering only embarrassment and perhaps replacing some shingles…

Fate Intervenes

The electric service entrance on this roof has a rather short mast to connect with the service drop from the power pole.

The rotating snake snagged a hot service wire, and the electric service bit back.

Not content to let go, the snake maintained contact with the hot wire and the entire snake became electrified.  The now red-hot snake started the shingles on fire.

Fortunately, a neighbor sees the fire, calls the local fire department, and the fire is put out. The snake eventually let go and the electrical hazard ceased.

Firefighters on roof

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