Kettle caused fire that killed three, Energy Safety investigation finds

The Coroner’s report has recently been released on the deaths of three people in Waimate in 2015 from a fire in their home, which our Energy Safety team investigated.

Our investigation found that the fire was most likely caused by the malfunction of a plastic kettle in the house.

We think the kettle may have been empty of water, or had the lid up, and was accidentally switched on and left on, perhaps for weeks.

Over 66,000 kettles of this model were sold, with no other fires that we know of. We tried to reproduce a fire from a number of these kettles, without success.

Kettles sold in New Zealand are declared medium and high risk articles. Our safety standards require kettles have two safety switches to prevent overheating and fire, in addition to the thermostat control that switches off the kettle when the water reaches boiling point.

The first safety switch will activate if the kettle gets too hot, such as when the kettle doesn’t have enough water in it or the lid isn't on properly. In these conditions the normal thermostat control may not work and the water will eventually boil dry, leading to overheating and risk of fire. The safety switch will interrupt the power to the kettle temporarily.

This safety switch will reset itself when the temperature drops to normal levels again. So a repeating cycle of the kettle going on and off can occur, perhaps thousands of times, if the user doesn’t realise this is happening and doesn't switch the kettle off at the wall.

If the first safety switch eventually fails, the second safety switch will activate, turning the kettle off - permanently. This final safety switch is a fuse type device, and once it activates the kettle will never work again.

We are sharing general appliance electrical safety advice to the public, to prevent similar tragedies from fires caused by portable cooking appliances from happening again.

Small cooking appliances such as kettles, toasters and deep fat fryers etc should only be used while someone is there to keep an eye on it. If a malfunction happens, if someone is there they can quickly switch off the appliance and unplug it, before it causes a fire.

It can be easy to accidentally switch on appliances when cleaning or moving them. So when you’ve finished using an appliance, make it a habit to switch it off at the socket, or better yet - unplug it. Get into the habit of doing this every time.

Remember: Power off + Plug out = Protect your home.