FIRE!!! (The Saga of the Exploding UPS)

There’s a running joke that everything bad happens to me. It seems that way sometimes and let me share with you today’s saga.

Every five to eight years we must replace the battery back-up system for our telephone system at work. That’s what enables us to stay in business when the power goes out after a disaster. That’s important to us and our customers. If you’re familiar with the APC SmartUps 750, we have eight of them daisy-chained together (Our current model is white though the picture below is black like the new one, but you get the idea).

This time we decided to go with some serious protection and get two extended-run packs. These things are 170 pounds each and are really big. They hook into a special version of the APC SmartUps 750 that handles them and controls them.

We ordered them from PC Connection (our current preferred provider at work for IT stuff — and we have a great representative, too, who I highly recommend). They came via truck. The boxes arrived, shrink-wrapped, in excellent condition and all boxes were factory sealed. We didn’t touch them.

Because we’re a company, we actually hired someone to hook up a complex power network. Not because it’s dangerous, but because if it’s not configured properly, you don’t get the extended runtime you paid for. The guy, named Eric, showed up to do the install.

Now, we almost decided to unpack it prior to his arrival and make it easy on him. But, because I didn’t know where he wanted to do the set-up work, we ended it up leaving it for him. A good choice, I might add. (Insert foreshadowing music here).

The APC guy opened it all himself. He hooked it up, plugged in all the wires. I was back there to help him see where we were going to plug the system in. So I’m holding the UPS and talking to him as he plugs it in. We hear what sounds like a very rattly cage fan, and we both comment on it (it does have a cage fan, mind you) and then we notice it’s orange inside and at the same time it erupts with black, acrid smoke, eight-inch-high bursts of flame, and loud popping noises. He and I race over, and he manages to unplug it but the flames are getting worse, so it wasn’t an arc situation. I run to the nearest fire extinguisher — not a Halon model designed for electrical fires and grab it. I wish to point out, my fingers are already burnt — medium-rare. I pop the pin on the extinguisher and let loose. It doesn’t fully quench the fire because it’s an electrical fire, so I get really, really, really close and force pump the gas at highest strength into the cage. That stops the fire, but the smoke continues, slowly dissipating, and happily not setting off our fire alarm — thankfully our fire alarm is only heat sensitive and not smoke sensitive.

My fingers on my right hand are now “medium-rare” with nice little burn marks :/ Plus, I froze my stupid hand with the fire extinguisher: that stuff is cold — I had no idea. But it was mostly thawed an hour later. The nice little marks on my finger still look I am char-grilled, but they don’t hurt.

The APC tech said he’s never seen anything like it. APC suspects something was dropped hard in transit though the box looked pretty perfect. I was shaking I was so scared. I mean it LITERALLY blew up in our hands. So here’s the picture with the control box removed, though you can see the feet marks where it was when it smoked out.


The paint on the wall is burnt, and the paint on the case of the battery packs is damaged. Everything in the office smells like “Eau Du Electrical Fire” — amazingly the unit itself that burnt (not pictured) is black and shows no visible signs of damage. Very weird, I assure you. All that stuff in the picture was brand new and bright white before the fire. The liquid looking stuff is from the extinguisher gas as it liquefied and put the smoke down.

That brownish tinted plastic looking stuff on the left of the picture is actually a nylon curtain we’ve always kept there to keep dust from getting into our phone system cabinet. It was clear before the fire.

I cannot begin to tell you how bad it smells in our office. We had to open all the windows and doors to air it out for the remainder of the day, but it didn’t help that much. Everything happens to me.

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