Batteries blamed for fire that destroyed Stoke home

The aftermath of the fire caused when lithium batteries were being charged.
John Bisset/Fairfax NZ

The aftermath of the fire caused when lithium batteries were being charged.

A rechargeable battery was most likely the cause of a fire that destroyed the home of Nelson couple Les and Lesley Morris making it one of many incidents involving lithium batteries, says fire investigator Craig Piner.

Although the case on the Morris's Arapiki Rd home was still under investigation, Piner said he believed the most likely cause to be a LiFe (Lithium Iron Phosphate) battery which was recharging in the Morris's garage, located in the middle floor of their three-storey house. He said a failure in the battery would have caused it to combust.

The resultant fire destroyed the Morris's home, leaving the couple with nothing but the clothes on their back.

Piner said this was one of many fire incidents involving lithium batteries.

"It's long been recognised as a problem," said Piner.

"[Les Morris] was well aware of the issues surrounding the batteries and he had bought one with safety in mind," he said.

"It was just unfortunate circumstances."

Lithium is a highly reactive substance that belongs to the alkali metal group.

Lithium batteries can be damaged by using them in hot environments, and by excessive discharging and charging.

Piner said all rechargeable batteries are at risk of combusting after they have been damaged, even the smallest knock putting it at risk.

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Fire services also attended another lithium battery related incident in Timaru at The Timaru Herald's offices on Monday, where the battery spontaneously combusted.

On Monday afternoon Herald photographer John Bisset had left a battery charging while he went, ironically, to take a photo of a fire in another part of Timaru.

Colleague Stu Piddington said the battery exploded like a small firework.

Despite several attempts to put out the fire using an extinguisher, it continued to smoulder, so the battery was taken outside and the fire service was called, he said.

South Canterbury assistant area commander Steven Greenyer said it was the second fire started from a recharging battery the service had attended within a month.

It is likely to occur when the battery has been banged or damaged and can then spontaneously combust, he said.

"It's not highly common, but in saying that this is the second in three weeks we have been to. It becomes a problem when they are on top of a wooden bench or inside plastic pieces - adjacent to material that can cause a lot of flames."

Greenyer's advice for those holding on to old laptops and cellphones is to recycle them commercially.

 How to store lithium batteries

Store batteries in a sealed metal container. Cutting off the oxygen supply means they can't continue burning, even if they do self-combust. Use an old cake tin, or something similar.

Lithium batteries pose only one fire risk among many. Fire alarms are the biggest lifesaver in any fire situation. Have multiple fire alarms in the house, and make sure they are correctly installed, which the fire service can do for you, free 

 - The Nelson Mail

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