E-cigarettes linked to 100 fires

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Published: Monday 3rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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Electronic cigarettes have been linked to more than 100 fires, new figures reveal.

Fire services in the UK are now attending at least one blaze involving the devices each week, statistics obtained by the Press Association suggest.

They have attended dozens of incidents suspected to have been sparked by e-cigarettes or related equipment including chargers in less than three years.

Data from 43 fire services show that since 2012 they have attended 113 calls to fires related to e-cigarettes. Several took place after users connected the devices to incompatible chargers.

The findings indicate fire brigades are recording a growing number of incidents involving the technology, which is now used by an estimated 2.1 million Britons.

From the services which provided data, e-cigarettes were cited as being in some way involved in eight fires in 2012, rising to 43 last year, while there have been at least 62 so far this year – indicating that officers are now attending incidents relating to e-cigarettes at a rate of more than one a week.

Fire chiefs have issued safety warnings following a spate of incidents.

In August David Thomson, 62, was killed when an e-cigarette on charge exploded and ignited oxygen equipment he was believed to have been using. It was thought to be to be the first fatality from a fire involving an e-cigarette in Britain.

Other incidents have resulted in people being hurt, while there have been reports of users’ houses being badly damaged.

Mark Hazelton, smoking and tobacco lead at the Chief Fire Officers Association, said they are investigating the extent of the trend.

“The fear behind it is we could see more of them (incidents) because it is a really big, growing market,” he said. “It’s difficult to tell the scale of it at the moment.

“We are monitoring it to see if it is a rising trend.”

Of the incidents where details were available, most took place while e-cigarettes were being charged.

Devices “exploded” while being powered up, while other cases involved batteries rupturing or overheating. Fires also broke out after e-cigarettes were plugged into computers or DVD players.

Some services were unable to provide precise information about the exact causes of fires, other than to disclose that e-cigarettes or linked equipment were involved.

Chargers rather than the gadgets themselves were suspected to have sparked a large number of the incidents, including a number where the wrong charger was used.

Fire chiefs are particularly concerned about users powering up their devices with cheap or incompatible chargers.

Rechargeable models contain liquid nicotine, a heating element and a battery, which is normally a lithium ion. Using a different charger can cause the e-cigarette to heat up, before the battery fails, potentially causing a small explosion.

Mr Hazelton said some e-cigarettes do not come with a charger, meaning users turn to equipment meant for other gadgets, or they simply assume USB cables can be transferred between devices.

He said: “You plug in an e-cigarette that doesn’t use an awful lot of current into a charger that does and you either over-voltage or over-current the device so it starts to heat up.

“Eventually with most e-cigarettes you get an issue where it spews out one end when the battery fails.”

All of the 51 fire services in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland were asked to provide figures on the number of incidents involving e-cigarettes they have attended in the last three years under Freedom of Information laws. Most responded with details but eight were unable to provide figures on e-cigarettes specifically.

West Midlands, South Yorkshire and Greater Manchester fire services attended the most, with eight each since the start of 2013.

Among the incidents recorded were:

:: A fire in West Yorkshire where a faulty e-cigarette exploded while being charged, burning the carpet.

:: Two instances of chargers overheating in Wiltshire

:: A house fire involving an e-cigarette on charge in Kilkeel, County Down, in which the bedroom curtains were set alight. A man was left with burns while a woman suffered smoke inhalation.

:: A house fire in Lowestoft, Suffolk, in May, after an e-cigarette was charging from the USB port of DVD player.

: An incident in London where the wrong charger was used, causing the battery to overheat and explode.

:: A house fire in Nuneaton after an e-cigarette was plugged into a laptop. The resident woke to find flames at the bottom of their bed.

:: An incident in Atherstone, Warwickshire, which saw two people rescued from the first floor of a house after a fire caused by an e-cigarette plugged into the home computer.

:: A fire in a car in South Yorkshire involving an e-cigarette charging by USB cable.

:: An e-cigarette charger connected to a television overheated after just 20 minutes in Derbyshire.

Trading standards officials are also monitoring the e-cigarette phenomenon.

A spokeswoman for the Trading Standards Institute said: “Fires caused by electronic cigarettes and their related equipment are a real concern.

“Testing carried out by trading standards services indicates some issues with the devices and chargers themselves, alongside the safety information provided with the product.

“There are also concerns over the safety implications of using different a different charger to the one supplied with the e-cigarette.”

Martyn Allen of charity Electrical Safety First said: “Fires caused by charging e-cigarettes are a growing problem and we are becoming increasingly concerned about them.

“People buy cheap or incompatible chargers for many reasons – often to save a few pounds – but you have to ask whether this is worth risking lives for.”

Published: Monday 3rd November 2014 by The News Editor

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