According to a U. S. Fire Adminstration report issued in 2012, the third leading cause of all fires in one- and two-family residences between 2008 and 2010 was electrical malfunction. The same report stated that the second leading factor contributing to non-confined fires in one and two family residences was electrical failure, malfunction.
Electrical failures that lead to fires is an arcing situation. An arc is an unintentional discharge of electrical energy. An extreme example of an arc is a lightning bolt. Arcs in the home are, of course, much smaller but the fact that an arc generates temperatures of several thousand degrees is where the hazard lies. The heat from arcs generate enough heat to cause combustion of materials in close proximity to the arc. Very often this happens where we can’t see them; inside walls or electrical boxes. By the time we discover the fire it is often too late, which I would suggest is the reason the electrical malfunctions is the second leading cause of non-confined residential fires.
Some of the places arcs might occur is with damaged wires (for example a nail accidentally punctures a wire), in worn outlets, in damaged cords for appliances or extension cords, old wiring where the insulation has started to loose its integrity or wires that are pinched or shorted in electrical boxes.
A few years ago a new type of circuit breaker was introduced, the AFCI breaker. AFCI stands for Arc Flash Circuit Interrupter. The early AFCI’s were designed to detect arcs between conductors and when there was a hazardous repetition of arcs to shut down the circuit. Recently the manufacturers have developed technology to also detect arcs in one conductor. They are known as Combination AFCI’s. Many thought the combination AFCI incorporated the functions of the GFCI. However that is not so. For further information of AFCI’s and GFCI’s see my article on Yahoo Voices. The purposes of AFCI’s and GFCI’s are completely different. The AFCI protects property and people while the GFCI protects people.
The National Electric Code is now requiring AFCI’s in all living spaces for new construction. I strongly recommend that to protect your home and family, replace your current breakers with Combination AFCI’s.
My second recommendation is to have a qualified electrician make those changes. Then if an AFCI interrupts a circuit don’t just reset it. Get an electrician to find and fix the problem, your family’s lives might be at stake.