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Reno Fire warns public about social media “Outlet Challenge”

By ThisIsReno

The Reno Fire Department is warning the public about a dangerous social media challenge that has the potential to cause electrical fires. Two residential fires that occurred last weekend in the Truckee Meadows are believed to be the outcome of the “Outlet Challenge,” circulating on sites like YouTube and TikTok.

The challenge suggests users partially insert the plug of a mobile device or charger, leaving the prongs exposed. Then a penny or piece of metal is dropped in the space between the plug and outlet to touch the exposed prongs. Fire investigators say the electrical fires can start when the metal makes contact with the prongs, creating an electrical arc.

“Temperatures within the path of an electrical arc are in the range of several thousand degrees,” said Tray Palmer, Fire Marshal with the Reno Fire Department. “From the exterior of the outlet you may just see a quick fire and flash, but usually what we see is that fire continues inside the wall and may not present itself to the homeowner until the fire is too big to control.”

According to the Reno Fire Department, if an electrical fire starts:

  1. Cut off the electricity. If the device that is causing the electrical fire is found, and you can reach the cord and outlet safely, unplug it. 
  2. Add sodium bicarbonate. If the fire is small, you may put it out by smothering it with baking soda.
  3. Don’t use water to put it out. Water is a natural conductor of electricity and if you throw water on an electrical fire, you can get shocked or electrocuted. Also, water may enable the fire to spread by conducting electricity throughout the room and potentially igniting flammable materials.
  4. Check your fire extinguisher. Electrical fires are a Class C fire, which means that you will need an extinguisher that is appropriate for this type of fire. Most residential fire extinguishers are multi-purpose and labeled ABC, but it is crucial to verify this before using it on an electrical fire. 

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