2017-12-01 / Viewpoint

E-cigarette sets dormitory room on fire


U.S. Army photo U.S. Army photo On Nov. 19 at 6:18 p.m. the USAG Ansbach Fire Dispatch Center received an automatic fire alarm from building 5813 A, AAH Katterbach. Occupancy Type: Dormitories.

The Fire Department Katterbach was dispatched with structural pumper and aerial ladder engine. Upon arrival smoke was identified coming out of a room on the second-floor dormitory. The building was evacuated and occupants instructed to immediately leave the facility.

Fire investigation revealed an electronic cigarette placed on a desk next to the bed/mattress overheated and started the fire. The fire damage was limited to furniture and mattress, however there is smoke damage from the burned synthetic materials throughout the room and heat damage to the detectors and lamps installed in the ceiling.

Per U.S. Fire Administration, e-cigarette fires and explosions in the United States 2009 – 2016, Incidence of severe and moderate injuries from e-cigarette explosions and fires are increasing; Reports of 195 separate e-cigarette fire and explosion incidents in the U.S. were found, dating from January 2009 to Dec. 31, 2016. In 68 percent of these incidents, 133 acute injuries were reported. No deaths were reported during the study period.

E-cigarettes using lithium-ion batteries present a new and unique hazard to consumers. No other consumer product places a battery with a known explosion hazard such as this in such close proximity to vital areas of the human body.

E-cigarettes are different from other electronic consumer devices because the battery is installed in a cylindrical device (the e-cigarette), has its weakest (structural) point at the ends. When the battery seal (at the end of the battery) ruptures, the pressure within the e-cigarette cylinder builds quickly until it ruptures, usually at the end.

As a result of the battery and container failure, one or the other, or both, can be propelled across the room like a bullet or small rocket.

Overheating of the battery (thermal runaway) can be caused by: puncture, overcharge, external heat, short circuit, or internal cell fault. Lithium-ion batteries must be charged in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.

In order to reduce the frequency of e-cigarette fires and explosions, the following recommendations are a must to consider:

Consumers should look for and demand e-cigarette products that have been evaluated for safety and that are listed by Underwriters Laboratory, UL.

Lithium-ion batteries should not be used in e-cigarettes. While the number of batteries that explode and catch fire is statistically small, the catastrophic nature of the injuries that can occur warrants the use of another battery technology for e-cigarettes.

As long as lithium-ion batteries continue to be used in e-cigarettes, severe injuries will continue to occur. Stress the importance of using UL-listed devices and proper charging practices to reduce the number of incidents.

Place and store e-cigarettes, batteries, and charging station on a noncombustible surface when charging/ not in use. The correct disposal, limitation, or separation of combustibles to reduce the danger of fire is key to fire prevention.

Return to top