Charging battery bursts into flames

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

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

When recharging lithium batteries, do not leave them unattended, is the advice from the Timaru fire service.

This comes after it attended an incident at The Timaru Herald's offices on Monday, where a charging lithium 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.

Such a fire 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.

Several telecommunications businesses advertise for the disposal of electronic goods and it was a good idea to take them up on it if people no longer used them, he said.

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Greenyer also suggested not to leave items charging unattended, just in case, and to use the correct chargers for the devices.

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.


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 of charge.

 - The Timaru Herald

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