East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo
East Sussex Fire & Rescue Service logo

Fire caused by an e-cigarette left to charge unattended, causing its battery to fail and ignite.

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Fire damage around the faulty e-cigarette USB charger

Fire damage around the faulty e-cigarette USB charger.

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The e-cigarette had been plugged in using a USB charger, was receiving an incorrect charge and left unattended.

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This picture, and the one below, show the benefits of a good fire door.

This picture shows the benefits of a good fire door.

How this fire happened

Electronic cigarettes have become popular in recent years with people wanting to reduce the amount of tobacco they smoke or stop smoking altogether. But in this instance, the potential health benefits were nearly outweighed by the risk of fire when an e-cigarette caused significant damage to a flat.

E-cigarettes have a battery-operated heating coil that gently heats nicotine liquid from a cartridge, enabling the user to inhale a nicotine vapour. This is believed to be less harmful than inhaling nicotine and smoke from a traditional cigarette.

The heating coil is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery. In this incident, the e-cigarette had been plugged in using a USB charger, was receiving an incorrect charge and had been left unattended in the property. Unlike other common battery-powered devices, such as mobile phones, some e-cigarettes do not have an in-built setting to switch off once the battery is full. This is believed to have contributed to the cause of the fire.

Within 25 minutes of putting the e-cigarette on charge, the fire alarm sounded in the block of flats. Unfortunately it was dismissed as a false alarm, leaving the fire to develop further. Smoke was eventually spotted coming from the roof and the fire and rescue service called. Although there was significant damage to the flat, good quality fire doors in the property stopped the fire from spreading.

A number of fire and rescue services have begun to show an interest in e-cigarettes as a possible cause of ignition and there is growing concern that, in common with any other consumer product, there may be an unregulated illegal supply and some charging mechanisms may not be up to UK specifications.

The effect it had

Safety message

Do - Safety Advice
  • Ensure that you purchase them from a reputable source
  • Speak to a healthcare professional about the most appropriate and effective nicotine replacement therapy to help you reduce the harm caused by smoking, including gums, patches and mouth sprays
  • Check the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website for the latest advice on the regulation of e-cigarettes as Nicotine Containing Products (NCPs)
  • Keep an eye on the Electronic Cigarette Trade Industry Trade Association's website for the industry's response to increasing MHRA regulation
  • Contact Trading Standards if you have any doubts about the safety of e-cigarettes being sold locally
  • Test your smoke alarm regularly
  • Assume that e-cigarettes are the most effective or safest way to reduce harm caused by smoking
Safety Message Don't
  • Leave items on charge unattended for long periods if at all possible


Further information

E-cigarette charger test


From Merseyside Fire & Rescue Service   

From the E-Cigarette Forum   

From Electrical Safety First                 

From the Department of health   

e-cigarettes exploding pockets

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This case study was contributed by:

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Latest Update :
21 September 2020
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