Window ACs may pose a hidden fire hazard

Experts say clean filters, proper electrical load key to safety

SAN ANTONIO – When recent storms knocked out the central air in Larry Lamkin’s home, he reinstalled the window units to keep cool in the muggy summer heat.

Now, it appears one of those units ignited a weekend fire that caused extensive damage.

Lamkin and his fiance were in the backyard when the dogs began to bark.

“I smelled smoke, and I start looking around,” he said. “I looked at the side of the house, and it’s just barreling black smoke coming out of the side of the house.”

They said they could see the source of the flames when the fire was extinguished.

“It all started in that window unit in the middle bedroom,” said Monica Chavez, Lamkin’s fiance.

While the exact cause has not officially been released, their house fire is far from a rare occurrence.

On average, nationally, 2,800 reported fires were linked to air conditioners, causing 20 deaths, 140 injuries and $182 million in damage, according to a 2016 study by the National Fire Protection Association.

Experts say soaring temperatures can overwork and strain a window AC, increasing the risk of fire it’s not maintained or if there is electric overload.

To stay cool and safe in your home, the San Antonio Fire Department offers the following important advice:

Keep the air filter clean.

Never use an extension cord. The electrical loads will cause the insulation to melt and catch fire.

Put the AC on its own circuit and make sure the electrical wiring and circuit breaker can handle the AC amps.

Never run the power cord under a rug or through a wall.

When installing, be sure it leans slightly outside to prevent rain and water from dripping onto electrical parts.

Hire a licensed contractor to install and make regular inspections of the unit.


Get ready to feel the heat. A supply shortage is impacting air conditioning companies in San Antonio.

Ceiling fans can keep you cool and help you conserve electricity

About the Authors:

As a consumer reporter, Marilyn is all about helping people stay safe and save a buck. Since coming to KSAT in 1985, she’s covered everything from crime to politics, winning awards for her coverage of the Mexican Mafia, Oklahoma tornadoes, children’s transplants, an investigation into voting irregularities and even a hit-and-run Santa Claus.

Before starting at KSAT in August 2011, Ken was a news photographer at KENS. Before that he was a news photographer at KVDA TV in San Antonio. Ken graduated from San Antonio College with an associate's degree in Radio, TV and Film. Ken has won a Sun Coast Emmy and four Lone Star Emmys. Ken has been in the TV industry since 1994.