Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs

Malfunctioned CFLRecently, an email has been circulating through inboxes regarding the failure of compact fluorescent light bulbs. The email states a CFL bulb manufactured by the Globe Electric Company, a Canadian company with manufacturing facilities  in China, malfunctioned and emitted four inch (4") flames like a torch.  The reported user turned off the lights. A visit to the local Fire Department and further research led the user to remove all remaining CFL bulbs in their home and begin circulating the email with picture of the bulb that malfunctioned (see right).

The North Catasauqua Fire Dept would like to take this opportunity to educate the public on the proper operation of these lights.  Compact fluorescent bulbs do not burn out like a traditional incandescent that many of us are used to.  Incandescent bulbs usually burn out with the dramatic flash we are accustomed to when you turn on the light.  Instead, as a CFL bulb nears the end of its life, its brightness dims.  Some stop emitting light entirely when they finally quit working.  Others may be more dramatic with a "pop" sound, a small release of smoke, and a characteristic burned electrical odor.  Sometimes the bases of the bulbs turn black.  This reaction is related to the breakdown of the bulb ballast, the hardware that lights the bulb and is contained in the base of the bulb that screws into the light socket.

As scary as the odor, smoke, blackening of the base, and  popping sound may be, this operation is completely normal.  CFLs are fire-safe and designed to fail safely at the end of their life. However, four inch flames shooting from a light bulb are not the norm and highly unusual.  Any electrical device may malfunction for a variety of reasons including manufacturing defect or consumer misuse.

Should you have a problem with an electrical device, please do not hesitate to call the Fire Department.

For more information on the myths of CFL bulbs, please see this article on the Underwriters Laboratories website.