Unfortunately, I had the exact same "melt down" happen to me. My 5500 watt 220 volt high density heat stick had to be bent 90 degrees to properly fit in both my boil kettle. I knew that right at the bend, there was a small crack in the ceramic or what ever material surrounds the nicrom wire, and my guess is that over time, some moisture eventually got in there and either shorted or exploded, ending that particular heat stick. At the time, I had been using it for heating my sparge water along with helping start the boil. It exploded when I tried to run the complete boil using the heat stick, and either the extent of the time involved or the overall heat was too much. Prior to that, I had been doing most of the boil with my burner, so I finished that boil with that, hoping against hope that there was something to save. I fermented it as normal, and kegged it, but it had an extreme charcoal taste. I ended up throwing it out. I did build a new heat stick, bent as before, but more gently, and still use that for sparge water and for heating up my mash if necessary. I now have gone all electric with a low density 5500 watt 220 volt element in my boil keggle, and it works wonders. The new heat stick also works fine, even though it does have a hairline crack in the covering at the bend.