2,000 homes burned, 4 people dead because of faulty DIY wiring

I know I bring up fire safety a lot, but it matters. After a year’s investigation, fire officials have determined that the third worst wildfire in California history was caused by a homeowner who installed an outlet incorrectly. The homeowner, A retired painting contractor, said he called an electrician for anything complicated, but did simple work himself. The outlet was not installed to code.

One of the people who died was a woman who uses a wheelchair. Her house burned. She was found in a position indicating that she was attempting to crawl to a place of shelter as the house was burning.

4 people died. 1280 single family homes were destroyed. It cost approximately $56 million to suppress the fire.

Full report:



You are spot-on, JD. I can’t believe how many times as a homeowner I’ve seen (and fixed) botched wiring, plumbing, or gas piping!

That’s something that bothers me when I read stories from people who are trying to understand how a 3-way switch works or why fan motors can’t be controlled by a light dimmer. Folks: if you don’t understand it thoroughly, find a licensed electrician (or plumber or whoever) to do the job for you! The few bucks you think you save could be more costly than you could imagine…

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I’m guilty of the 3 way, but I always advise I’m not an electrician when giving advice. I’ve had my brother (master electrician) come do some comparitively simple things with weirdly (to me) wired circuits. Just because I don’t want to burn something down. It’s better to ask and be called a fool, than to be a fool.

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This is more serious than people think. I offer Smart Home services, and some of our customers are pre-existing DIY customers. As a courtesy we check their wiring and more than often we find that the electrical switches are installed without proper termination, without ground , improperly twisted wires, bare wires etc. Getting professional help for high voltage is really recommended. DIY should only be limited to battery operated or low voltage devices. It is highly recommended to have a certified electrician (atleast a well reputed Apprentice Level) for high voltage wiring - even if it is just something as simple as a switch. Local Codes and Proper insulation/electrical best practices should still to be followed.

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Wow, I’ve done a few switches and plugs. I’m very certain that I should use a licensed guy. I have one coming in for a “big” job soon. I might throw him a few bucks to run and audit on my work while he’s here.

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I get the point of the post, but hot tube wiring is no where near the same thing as installing a receptacle or switch.

Also, replacing existing is much less risky (knowledge required) than adding new / extending.

That’s said there is some basic knowledge that you should have before you make changes (wire gauge, 15 vs 20 amps, overloading, lights vs receptacles,…)

I am currently in the process of fixing wiring the previous home owner did in my basement. There are a lot of 12awg to 14 awg connection and overloaded circuits. Oh and no neutrals. I even found a couple of hot wires out of junction boxes and uncapped. I had a licensed (and probably more importantly trusted) electrician come and install a 100 amp sub panel and whole house surge protector. Even though neither one is hard to do and would have been much easier than my weekend plumbing adventure. Why? Because I am not an idiot.


Can relate to this.

Found a metal lightswitch in our house that had the live wire connected to the earth! This was in a garage conversion they had done themselves and fortunately the power was off when I took it off the wall.

It’s not quite as bad as it sounds as i managed to track the wire back to find that they had connected it into a junction box the same way (live/red wire to the earth) so it was just a case of connecting the wrong wire, but the point still stands.

If you’re not 100% confident of what you’re doing, get some professional help!

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I have a MSc in electronics. The one rule I follow about breakers: breakers are there to protect the wires. Always size the wire at or above the breaker amperage. Never replace a breaker with a higher rated breaker just because it keeps tripping - you’re setting yourself up for disaster. Find the root cause for the overload and fix that.

Also, rule of thumb: regular household plugs, 12AWG, lighting 14AWG. My home is so light on electricity I can run it all except the central HVAC off a generator… 14AWG is clearly overkill for my LED lights (proud owner of only 3 CFL lights in a ceiling fan lamp I never use) but there is no point in downsizing it (i.e. use lower rated breakers) :wink:


This is a difficult topic, because it’s hard to determine where the line is exactly for having a sufficient understanding to be ready to tackle a specific job, such as swapping in a switch, which ought to be within the capabilities of anyone with any technical aptitude and a willingness to learn and work carefully, or something more involved, which probably should be mentored first before attempting solo, no matter how well you think you know what you’re doing.

“The wire connections were found lying in the grass.”

This is, of course, beyond the pale, and IMO, criminal negligence.