Electronic cigarettes are an increasingly popular way for people to reduce the amount of tobacco they smoke or stop smoking altogether. While the immediate health benefits may be obvious, e-cigarettes they can pose a fire safety risk.
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 ion battery and these have been known to catch fire if they are overcharged, defective or damaged. This can lead to a cycle of heating called ‘thermal run away’ and may cause a fire.
This incident, which happened at a residential nursing home in Derbyshire, unfortunately led to the death of an elderly resident. The initial fire was caused by an e-cigarette battery pack which heated other combustible material while charging. There was a localised fire followed by an explosion involving a nearby aerosol containing flammable gas.
Parts of the battery pack and the cigarette were projected up to 2m from the seat of the fire – the distance travelled and force of the explosion are clearly shown in the photographs.
Other fire and rescue services are interested in the potential fire risk posed by e-cigarettes. There is growing concern that, in common with any other consumer product, there may be an unregulated illegal supply and some charging mechanisms or batteries may not be up to UK specifications.
Thank you to Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service for providing this case study.
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