Q&A / 

Lithium Battery Fires

laptop tablet drill camera power pack on kitchen island

Lithium Battery Fires | These common items you may have in your home contain lithium batteries that can catch fire and explode. The danger is far greater than you might ever imagine. Copyright 2023 Tim Carter ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Lithium Battery Fires - The Problem is Very Serious

This might be the most important column I’ve written in my 30-year career as a syndicated columnist. There’s a very high probability you have lithium-ion batteries in your home. They are now as common as ants at a summer picnic. The issue is the batteries can present a significant danger to you and your loved ones. You could have lithium battery fires in your home today or tonight.

Six months ago a home just miles from where I live almost burned down because power tool lithium-ion batteries ignited a fire. Fortunately, no one died or was seriously injured in this fire but lithium batteries are causing death and permanent injuries to many across the USA and the world. That fire caught my attention and I decided to begin to gather information for this column.

PR People Clam Up

Early in my investigation. I reached out to the public relations (PR) person of a major power tool company here in the USA. I’ve dealt with this professional for years and all of my previous requests were answered in a timely manner.

I asked to interview the top battery engineer to try to discover what might have gone wrong at my neighbor’s house. The PR professional ignored my request. I initiated a second request reaching out to a different PR professional from the company. That request was ignored.

I’ve done expert witness work in lawsuits for the past three decades and surmised the corporate attorneys had instructed the PR folks to not engage the press on battery issues. My guess is they have a three-foot-tall stack of lawsuits on their desks and any interaction with me would be discoverable evidence in a lawsuit by a plaintiff.

The power tool -company silence should stun you and cause alarm.

Early in my investigation, I set up a Google Alert using the words “lithium battery fire”. Each morning I receive links to a plethora of stories from around the world about fires caused by these power packs.

google alert screen shot lithium battery fires

Based on the information in these stories, there are quite a few common elements. Many fires happen while the battery is being charged. Many fires are traced to replacement batteries that may or may not carry the Underwriters Laboratories (UL) label. Many fires have mismatched batteries and chargers. In almost all cases, the batteries explode like a miniature bomb igniting nearby combustible materials.

I’ve watched countless videos showing batteries igniting and exploding violently. Get out of your head the image of a scented candle starting a blanket on fire. Replace that with an image of a powerful firework exploding spraying sparks, hot plasma, and flames out like a blowtorch.

Add to this that a lithium battery fire emits extremely toxic fumes. The fire can produce temperatures in excess of 1,000 degrees F in seconds. Nearby combustible materials such as furniture, carpets, bedding, etc. can ignite creating a conflagration in seconds. Look at this graph to show how fast a fire grows in seconds. This is why you should consider installing fire sprinklers wherever lithium batteries are used or stored.

graph of fire growth with and without sprinklers

This graph shows how fast a fire can grow with and without sprinklers. The red arrow points to the fire growth with no sprinkler. The green arrow points to the fire growth with a sprinkler spraying water on the fire. Graph courtesy of Waste360.com - Fair Use Doctrine usage claimed

As I was writing this column, I received my daily summary from Google and there was a video made by the UL Fire Safety Research Institute showing an explosion and fire inside a simulated residential two-car garage. The battery was in thermal runaway where the heat in the battery caused a violent explosion that blew the large garage door out into the driveway!

Fires on Airplanes!!!

Lithium battery fires on airplanes are happening more frequently. It's a SERIOUS ISSUE. Watch this video:

The fire department experts offer up these tips about how you can best protect yourself. Once a battery is charged up, unplug it. Charging a lithium battery creates heat. Avoid overnight unsupervised charging. Never charge a lithium battery in direct sunlight as the sun’s infrared rays can easily heat the battery on its own to over 150 F.

If your battery gets damaged, emits an odor, changes color, or gives off excessive heat, stop using it and do not store it near any combustible materials.

Never throw away a lithium-ion battery in the trash. Garbage truck fires are becoming more common. Fires at trash and recycling transfer stations and facilities are causing millions of dollars in damage.

You can protect yourself by using lots of common sense. Think about what you learned in high school physics class about fires, combustion, oxygen, etc.

First and foremost read and follow the instructions to the letter that come with the tool or product that has one of these batteries. Only charge your lithium batteries when you can observe them. Consider charging the batteries on non-combustible surfaces and far away from combustible materials. Store the batteries where if they ignite, they won't spread the fire to nearby combustibles.

I urge you to set up your own Google Alert. Consider installing a fire sprinkler in the area where you do store your lithium battery tools and garden implements. If a lithium battery does ignite, the sprinkler should do a great job of containing the fire until your firefighters arrive.

Column 1507


13 Responses to Lithium Battery Fires

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *