CFL Flourescent Light Bulbs: A Fire Hazard?

Yesterday we had the local Fire Department over! We weren’t really expecting company and we weren’t really ready for company but you never know when the guys will come over. But, they did.

Holly was in her room doing her homework. She ran over to the grocery store. We made lunch. Then she walked back into her room. She walked out and said, “Mom, my room smells funny!” My first reaction was, “Do you have any food in there?” You know, she is a teenager. She said, “No, mom, this smells really bad!” I went in there and sure enough it smelled like something burning and the room was foggy but no flames. I immediately told her to unplug everything and come outside.

We called 911.

We waited outside with the door open and still no flames. We stood outside talking to our neighbor next door.

The Fire Department came and they walked through the room and Holly’s bathroom. Nothing. They opened up the windows. They did not know where the smell was coming from. They warned us about Holly’s stuffed animals by the wall with the plug and told us we should move those. Okay, not a problem there.

Then they were stumped. They did not know where the smell was coming from even though they smelled it. With the windows open, the smell was going away.

They asked for my name and number, you know for information purposes and said to call if it comes back.

Then, they left.

So, the maintenance guys came in. For this reason, I love living in a condo/apartment. Any time something goes wrong, these guys are right on it. They fix everything.

Anyways, we decide to look at everything that my daughter had plugged in to see if there were any frayed wires. We looked at the stand up lamp by her bed and it was fine. We then looked at her lamp that was on her desk.

There is the culprit!

The CFL light bulb had burned and was cracked. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a picture of our light bulb because the maintenance guy immediately took it out of our home and disposed of it. But it looked something similar to this.


Someone asked me if it was a mounted lamp or if the light bulb was in some sort of enclosure. No, it was in just a regular lamp.

I did some further research on this subject and was concerned when I read this article written on the Beech Mountain Volunteer Fire Department’s website. So, I called the fireman that had just been to my house and he talked to me about the ballast of the light bulb and he was glad that we had let him know what it was and said that it was safe for Holly to be in the room. She just needed to leave her window open and clean her desk to make sure that there was not any left over mercury in her room. (Great, huh?)

I took care of that then read the article on Snopes about this and have come to the conclusion that this may have been just the way that these CFL lights burn out. I found the following on

According to National Geographic’s Green Guide, CFLs are perfectly fire-safe to use in homes:

Although a melted plastic base near the coil of the bulb might lead you to believe the CFL is a fire hazard, it is just the opposite. In fact, the melted plastic and burn marks are a sign that the bulb was working just as it should.

If you look at the plastic base, or ballast, of the light bulb, you should see a symbol indicating that the ballast is UL certified, which means that the plastic on the exterior can safely function during bulb operation and at the end of the bulb’s life. The fact that the plastic on your bulb’s ballast melted and turned black is totally normal, says John Drengenberg, consumer affairs manager at Underwriters Laboratory (UL), the company that evaluates plastics for, among other things, flammability characteristics. A CFL generates light from an electric current that runs through glass tubing filled with gases.

The electrified gases emit ultraviolet radiation, which then comes in contact with a phosphorous lining on the glass, thus creating light. Bulbs burn out when the ballast overheats and an electronic component, the Voltage Dependent Resister (VDR), opens up like a fuse in your home’s fuse box, shutting off the circuit and generating heat and possibly a small amount of smoke. This might sound dangerous, but the VDR is a cut-off switch that prevents any hazards. The melted plastic you’re seeing where the glass coil connects to the ballast is simply a sign that the heat is escaping as intended in the design of the bulb.

So, with my past history of fire in the home, I don’t want to say that if you smell a burning smell and see smoke but no fire and you don’t know where it is coming from, not to be concerned, because I completely believe in better safe than sorry, but once the fire department does get there, be sure to check your CFL light bulbs and look to see if it has burned out and have the fire department dispose of it properly.

I am just grateful that yesterday was a holiday and that Holly and I were both home and we were quick to unplug the lamp and we didn’t wait to find out if it would in fact cause a fire. But there sure was the odor and smoke and the scare.

Has any of your CFL Lightbulbs burned out in your home yet? What was your experience?

Image Source: Beech Mountain Volunteer Fire Department

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