Experts: Lithium batteries, found in more and more devices, are a rising fire risk

Burns caused by devices with lithium batteries are requiring hospitalization.
Published: Mar. 15, 2023 at 5:41 PM HST|Updated: Mar. 15, 2023 at 10:59 PM HST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Burns caused by devices with lithium batteries are requiring hospitalization.

That’s according to Dr. Robert Schulz, of Straub Medical Center’s burn unit.

Schulz said some patients have come in with third-degree burns “that require, if not grafting, at least a month in the hospital.” Electric scooters, bikes, hoverboards, known as micro-mobility devices, have also caused house fires.

Hawaii Island firefighters participated in a training course earlier this year to tackle the threat.

Also in this series: Regulations eyed after injuries, deaths associated with button batteries ingested by kids

Christina Baxter, a subject matter expert from the company Hazard 3, conducted the training.

Baxter showed firefighters a horrifying video of people in an elevator. One person walked in carrying an electric scooter just before the doors closed. The scooter suddenly started to emit smoke, followed by a flash and flames.

Baxter said as difficult as that is to watch, it gives firefighters an idea of what they could be dealing with when it comes to electric devices. “When they realize how fast the reaction can go from zero to 100,” she said.

HNN Investigative Reporter Lynn Kawano joins "This is Now" to discuss a special series on battery safety.

Baxter said one reason this happens: The power source becomes volatile when compromised. Riding on curbs, jumps and flips could damage the metal casing and when that happens, the battery can be exposed.

Any damage to a high-voltage battery is dangerous.

Bill Ogawa, owner of Battery Bill in Mapunapuna, demonstrated the reaction in a YouTube video. He punctured a battery and it started to shoot toxic smoke in seconds.

Baxter said overheating during charging is another reason for the fires in micro-mobility devices.

Experts have these tips to help owners stay safe:

  • Use the manufacturer-approved charger;
  • Don’t charge inside your home, if possible;
  • If you must charge inside, keep it away from fire escape routes;
  • Never charge when you are sleeping.

“You definitely would want to be looking at it,” said Hawaii County Battalion Chief Patrick Springer.

Springer said once the device is charged, remove it from the charger and unplug.

The smaller, lithium battery-powered equipment like phones, laptops, and older model e-cigarettes have also caused injuries, especially because the owners often carry them in a pocket or purse ― close to the body.

Shulz has treated many people with burns to their backs and legs.

He said the fires can get so hot, patients have had to stay weeks in the hospital suffering from burns.

Springer said the Hawaii Fire Department has more training sessions planned later this year as the popularity of electric equipment grows.