This is a bit long, but please read to the end so you can be prepared should this happen to you.
So we had a little adventure in the Souza household this morning. It’s custom in our house that on Saturdays I make my wife breakfast in bed. Sundays I get breakfast in bed. This morning, looking at what I had at hand, I decided to try something new. I cut slices of French bread, smeared a layer of hummus on, slices of fresh tomato over that, topped it off with mozzarella and put under the broiler (it turned out to be delicious, by the way).
When checking to make sure it wouldn’t burn, I noticed the top element had caught fire. I turned the broiler off. The element kept burning. A small chunk of the element remained orange with heat. I figured once power was removed, it would eventually cool and go out. It then brightened white hot and spit sparks like a sparkler. I figured it must still be getting current somehow. I took a wooden spoon and gave it a few whacks figuring the part that had already burned must be brittle from the heat, and if I could break the element, it would break the circuit. I was successful. A small segment broke away and smacked down on the bottom of the oven with a metallic clank – circuit broken.
And still the element burned and sparked, inching along slow but sure.
Next, I tried to pull the element out. The bottom element plugs into a socked and easily comes out for cleaning. Not the broiler element. It’s hard mounted into the stove. There are holes in the back wall where it penetrates and presumably connects to power. I could foresee that in half an hour or so, the element, like a very slow fuse, would burn through the holes, hit some insulation material and wiring and we’d have ourselves an honest to God house fire.
I grabbed some window cleaner, the first non-flammable liquid at hand, and sprayed down the white hot portion hoping if I could lower the temperature enough, it couldn’t ignite the metal ahead of it, and the fire would stop. It didn’t. At first the color of the metal dulled and it seemed like it might work, however the orange glow quickly picked up intensity to white hot and it started sparking again.
I ran to the garage and grabbed a pair of channel lock pliers, grabbed the element and bent it downward. I then filled a glass bowl with water and submerged the burning end. It sizzled and cooled, and for a moment looked like it had gone out. Then a glow emerged from beneath the water and even submerged it continued to burn like a road flare. It was worse than a nightmare. Like Jason Vooohees from Friday the 13th, there was no stopping it.
I ran back to the garage and grabbed a pair of industrial tin snips. The element is about a quarter inch thick, more than these snips were designed to deal with. I latched on about four inches ahead of the blaze and gave it all I have squeezing with both hands. The snips managed creep through the metal, and burning portion of the element hit the bottom of the stove. I grabbed it with the pliers, ran it to the back door, and hucked it onto the lawn. Disaster averted.
I’ve never heard of this happening before, but obviously it can, so just be aware. As far as I know, all elements are made with this material and counter my own preconceptions, it can burn. The other warning is that if this does happen to you, you can’t put it out. I was lucky. I happened to have a tool capable of cutting through the element. Most people won’t. And even with that tool, I was barely able to manage it and I’m a pretty big strong guy. The right thing to do would have been to close the oven door and call the fire department, which is something all of us are capable of, and what I should have done.
The good news is nobody was hurt, and the toast was perfectly cooked before the element decided to go haywire. So now it’s off to buy a new stove.