Lithium-ion battery fire warning

Broken Hill Fire and Rescue are warning the region’s residents about the ongoing risk of fires started by devices containing lithium-ion batteries.

Broken Hill FRNSW Station Commander, Don Peters, told the Barrier Truth they’ve been called out to four fires started by lithium batteries in the last year, and he’s certain the number will increase.

“The trouble is you store your batteries in the shed, and it ends up being the whole shed that burns down,” he said. “I’ve been using a power tool when it started smoking, and it took me a minute to work out what was going on. Flames started shooting out of the side of it in my hand, so I took it outside and took the battery off and dropped it, left a bit of a hole.

“The plastic around that hole was charred. One week later I picked up the battery and accidently touched the hole and got a small burn on my finger. They can still remain dangerous for a long time.”

“The last fire we went to, the tool that caught fire was next to paint cans, so other batteries then caught fire and he [the owner] ended up with smoke inhalation after his shed filled up with smoke,” said Commander Peters.

“We want to warn the community because so many kids have these batteries in their bedrooms, and they plug their phones in at night and then stick them under their pillow,” he continued. “People are now hanging vacuum cleaners in cupboards while they’re charging so as soon as they go up, so does everything else.”

And it seems that heat is not the main culprit igniting the lithium-ion batteries.

“It’s got little to do with heat really. It’s just that something goes wrong with the batteries – a short circuit, system fault, or internal cell failure. The electrolytes are highly flammable, so they just get thermal runaway and it’s a chain reaction that keeps that intense heat going and then they catch fire,” he said. “You end up getting an intense flame coming out of them and it’s like a gas torch.”

There seems to be no way to tell whether a fire will start from a device so Commander Peters suggests avoiding the cheaper brands if possible.

“We’re still learning about why this is occurring in some batteries and devices but not in others. As soon as a faulty battery is found in products, the serial number and model number would be identified and recalled, but how many fires happen before that is anyone’s guess.”

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