MADISON, Wis. --
One in 10 Madison homes may have an electrical panel that's a fire hazard, reported News 3's Teri Barr.
The problem is a particular type of circuit breaker made by Federal Pacific.
Madison homeowner Kate Burr was surprised to find she has one -- a Federal Pacific Stab-Lok -- in her house.
"You have to be kidding me," said Burr, who found out about the fire hazard when her circuit breaker couldn't handle a new air conditioner.
Dale Luhman of Mr. Sparky Electrical Service said he's seen lots of potential hazards with some of the old panels. The problem is only half the breakers trip when over-loaded the way it's supposed to -- and only half of the time, Barr reported.
"On the Stab-Loc -- the circuit breakers fit here and this part burns right off," Luhman said. "So you could have a red-hot wire in the wall that you can't see. It could be there long enough to start your house on fire."
News 3 obtained documentation about the panel, which indicates few homeowners know they have a Federal Pacific panel. Often it takes an inspection or a problem with the panel to discover it.
Even fewer people realize there's a potential risk for fire because the breakers are defective.
The Wisconsin Department of Consumer Protection wasn't even sure if there's possible recourse, Barr reported. However, officials warn not to try to change the panel yourself.
"I would get an electrician -- especially with these reports that this one brand is causing problems," said Jim Rabbit of the Consumer Protection department. "We need to have someone comfortable around electricity to deal with that.."
Burr had her entire panel replaced.
"Whether or not it would start on fire, I don't know," she said. "Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn't -- but I'm not willing to take that chance."
While researching this story Barr found documents for a class action lawsuit representing more than 400 homeowners in New Jersey.
The Superior Court there already ruled Federal Pacific violated the Consumer Fraud Act.
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