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Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs (CFL Bulbs)

On June 18, 2008, a house fire occurred where the occupant reported a haze of smoke in the structure. Although the house contained no “traditional” fluorescent light fixtures. A CFL bulb was found in a ceiling fixture that had a ballast failure.

A CFL bulb contains a ballast at the base of the unit between the spiral tube and (Edison) screws. This ballast, encased in a plastic shell (see photo/arrows below), may or may not have visible vent holes or slots.

The ballast contains a Voltage Dependent Resister that, when failure occurs, opens like a fuse to protect the device and associated electrical equipment. The resultant heat and smoke should escape from the vents in the housing. Light smoke may be visible and one will smell that distinct electrical ballast odor. As in this case, there were visible smoke marks and a small brown oily/gooey residue at the vent holes. These signs were not visible with the bulb in its socket.

Since more CFL bulbs are finding their way into the home, don’t overlook these items when investigating a smoke odor.

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