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News / Clark County News

Fire officials caution about potential risks of lithium-ion batteries

By Mia Ryder-Marks, Columbian staff reporter
Published: February 19, 2024, 5:39pm

To recognize National Battery Day, fire officials are cautioning people about the potential risks linked with lithium-ion batteries, which are frequently found in cellphones, laptops, smoke alarms and electric vehicles.

According to a study by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, there were 208 incidents between 2021 and November 2022 across the United States, resulting in 19 deaths due to lithium-ion battery fires or batteries overheating.

Clark County has seen its fair share of lithium-ion battery fires, too.

In 2017, a fire that severely damaged an apartment above Vancouver’s Igloo Restaurant was likely caused by a charging electronic tablet. In May 2019, a charging drone battery likely caused a house fire in the Sifton neighborhood, and in 2022, a La Center shop building burned when remote-control cars caught fire while being charged.

The Washington State Fire Marshal’s Office reminds people of important safety tips:

  • Purchase and use devices that are listed by a qualified testing laboratory.
  • Only use charging cords that come with the device.
  • Do not charge a device under your pillow, on your bed or on a sofa.
  • Do not keep charging the device or device battery after it is fully charged.
  • Only use the battery that is designed for the device.
  • Store batteries away from anything that can catch fire.
  • Install batteries in the device the correct way.
  • Keep batteries at room temperature when possible. Do not charge them at temperatures below 32 degrees or above 105 degrees.

“No cellphones, tablets or laptops should be left unattended while charging. These devices and their chargers generate heat during charge cycles that must be properly dissipated through ventilation. Devices that are covered and unable to breathe may build up heat and lead to ignition,” a Vancouver deputy fire marshal previously said.

There are several warning signs of a lithium-ion battery that is about to catch fire. According to the Fire Safety Research Institute, the device may emit an unusual hissing or popping sound, excessive heat or a strange odor. If you notice these warning signs, you should immediately stop using the battery-powered device.

White or gray wispy smoke indicates risk of fire, and you should follow your home’s fire escape plan and call 911.