Electric Hot Water heater starts on Fire ????

I'm just posting this out of curiousity. A woman I used to do work for, for many years just called me to ask me for advice about her water heater. She lives out of state now, so I can not actually see the problem. She claims the electric water heater was smoking, and said that after her husband turned off the breaker it continued to "burn". Then her husband cut the electric cable to finally make out the "fire". Although she said she did not actually see any fire, just smoke.
I should mention that I worked as a plumber for 8 years before I retired, not including the many years I was a handyman doing plumbing, electrical and other repair work before that. Yet I never ran across this type of problem. However, I worked in a city where almost everyone had natural gas heaters. While I have worked on several electric heaters, they were few compared to the gas ones.
Yet, I am in a fog on this matter. This woman said that she had noticed for a few weeks that there was not enough hot water. On Friday she went into the basement to do laundry, and noticed the smoke, and got her husband.
Neither of them are handy, so I question this whole matter. However, I know they are not going to lie about it. I should mention that that water heater was just installed about 3 years ago. I know this for fact because she had called me to find out the name of the person that took over for me, and I know he replaced it. In fact I told her it might still be under warranty.
Anyhow, knowing that there are only 4 electrical parts, (2 elements and 2 thermostat controls) plus some wire, what the heck could really burn? The element is in the water, and while I know they are the most likely part to burn out, they can not smoke under water. This seems to only leave the thermostat controls....... Has anyone ever seen one of them go up in smoke? Once I ran into a defective one, but I have never heard of them burning....
Anyone have any opinion, or ever expreience this? Somehow this just dont seem to make much sense to me.... Most people replace gas heaters with electric ones because of the lesser fire hazzard, and now I hear this......
Mark
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snipped-for-privacy@UNLISTED.com wrote:

Might is simply be a connection which loosened over the years and eventually got hot enough to start smoking? I have seen loose electrical connections get to the glowing and molten metal stage which took out insulation in the process. That could explain the lack of sufficient hot water too. Just a WAG of course...
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John McGaw
[Knoxville, TN, USA]
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snipped-for-privacy@UNLISTED.com wrote: .

As an electrician, I've seen that a few times. Usually the problem was a combination of of loose connections on the thermostats and someone using the wrong temperature rated wire. Sometimes even the factory high temperature wire is damaged as a result of bad connections. When that happens unknowing people then re-wire the thermostat with standard building (90 C) wire instead of high temperature wire (105 C or above). The cycle begins again, loose connections heat up except this time the temperature under-rated wire insulation melts which then melts the water heater insulation resulting in a lot of smoke and in some cases, possible fire.
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snipped-for-privacy@UNLISTED.com wrote:

He CUT the cable?
Jeeze, I know you said later that he wasn't handy, but it's a good thing he didn't electrocute himself in the process.
I started to think, "Hasn't he ever heard of a circuit breaker box".
But then I stopped myself when I realized that if I asked SWMBO to go to our breaker box and flip off the breaker for our electric water heater I'd undoubtedly receive a blank stare from her. She has myriad other positive abilities, it's just not something she's had a "need to know".
*********
Poll: How many husband's here are certain their wives could accomplish the task I just described without having to receive detailed instructions?
*********
Jeff
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Jeffry Wisnia
(W1BSV + Brass Rat \'57 EE)
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I said "HE TURNED OFF THE BREAKER FIRST". But when it kept smoking, he cut the cable. This alone proves the guy is not handy, because that obviously did nothing and when the breaker was shut off, obviously the power is off and there is no need to cut the cable, but rather he should have first called the fire department after shutting the breaker off, then opened the heater access panel and find the cause of the fire and douse it with an extinguisher. I too was rather puzzled about the reason to cut the cable, but some people just do not have a clue about things like this..... I even told the woman that once the breaker was shut off, there was no reason to cut the cable, and asked why they did not call the Fire Dept.? She just said she dont understand things like this, and could not answer my question.
Mark
--------------------------------
On Wed, 28 Jun 2006 12:31:04 -0400, Jeff Wisnia

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snipped-for-privacy@UNLISTED.com wrote:

Well, y'know I plumb blanked out on the part about him turning the breaker off, maybe because I kept trying to figure out what you meant by his cutting the cable "to finally make out the fire." I've know what "make out" means for over 55 years, but a fire is hotter than anything/anybody I'd care to make out with.
In defense of my comment about his electrocution, maybe he didn't know which was the correct breaker to throw and switched off the power to the clothes dryer by mistake? <G>
Jeff

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On Wed, 28 Jun 2006 18:49:59 -0400, Jeff Wisnia

<LOL>
This I dont doubt, but I think the cutting of the cable would have been pretty exciting, but not the kind of excitement I tend to enjoy!
It's things like this that make me glad I am retired. I used to put up with some pretty crazy people when I was in business.
For example, there was a woman that disconnected or disassembled every electrical device in the house. This is not a joke. She believed there was a "bug" in the house. No, not a cockroach or spider, but a camera type of bug watching her. This woman was completely nuts and how she managed to remove ALL of the guts of the breaker box without getting electricuted amazes me. The mains were just hanging there, and still live. Every outlet, switch, light fixture was removed, appliances torn apart, etc. She carefully watched everything I did and had me check for bugs in every box, and then I had to double check, and triple check. But I was being paid by the hour, so I just did what she said, tried not to laugh, and made a lot of money answering really stupid questions. Plus, I got a free tv when I finished because she insisted there was a bug inside and showed it to me. That yellow CRT booster was added by a tv repairman, and it was squishy and it contained some sort of poisonous material, and was going to explode.... Yep, that's exactly what she told me, as she squeezed it in her hands and told me to do the same. The tv could not just be tossed in her garbage, it had to be removed from her property immediately, and she was willing to pay me $100 to take it away. I just said "no problem" tossed it in my truck and took it home for a spare tv along with the $100. I just had to put the back on the set again. Not all my jobs were this crazy, or profitable, but this one is the one I will never forget. That woman really needed to be hospitalized, but I did my job as both electrician and therapist, took my paycheck, and got the hell out of there.... Of course before I left, I had to use her binoculars to look for bugs on the power pole behind her house. When she told me she wanted the insulators replaced on the HV lines, I told her she would have to call the electric company. I wish I could have been there when they came..... I even considered calling them to warn them....
It takes all types to make this world spin, but there are a few that spin backwards..... She was one of them.....
Mark

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On Wed, 28 Jun 2006 16:26:31 -0500, snipped-for-privacy@UNLISTED.com wrote:
(...)

Friend, the world doesn't consist just of husbands and wives. Maybe you should have asked "how many women", or even "how many people".
Clueless
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snipped-for-privacy@adelphia.net wrote:

As polemeister I can damn well ask the question any way I want fella.
I was attempting to see how many handy DIY husbands weren't bothered by the fact that their wives didn't take an interest in home tech stuff, while at the same time being great at all kinds of other things.
But since I'm currently residing in the only one of the 50 states which has legalized gay marriage, I suppose I should have thought about that aspect too.
You don't like it, feel free to start your own poll.
Sincerely,
Jeff (Who now knows how Larry Summers may have felt.)
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Jeffry Wisnia
(W1BSV + Brass Rat \'57 EE)
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High resistance connection where the house wiring connects to the water heater makes a lot of heat and burns the insulation.

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