A lithium-ion polymer battery for a radio-controlled vehicle burst into flame while it was being charged Tuesday and caused extensive damage to the living of a suite in a home on Kamp Place in Nanaimo. (Photo courtesy Nanaimo Fire Rescue)

Lithium-ion battery fire damages suite in Nanaimo

One man displaced from home after battery for radio-controlled toy bursts into flame while charging

There were no injuries, but one man was displaced from a suite in Nanaimo after a lithium-ion polymer battery burst into flame while it was being charged.

Nanaimo Fire Rescue responded to a report of a fire in a living room in the downstairs suite of a home on Kamp Place in Harewood shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The occupant was not home at when the fire broke out, but arrived to see smoke coming from the apartment and sounded the alarm, said Alan Millbank, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer.

There were no working smoke alarm in the suite, but the family of seven people living upstairs escaped safely.

The battery being charged was used to power a radio-controlled vehicle, said Millbank, who classified the fire as accidental.

Fire damage was contained to the living room of the suite. The house is insured, but neither tenant had insurance. The upstairs tenants were able to return home.

Millbank said a working smoke alarm in the basement would have alerted the occupants to the fire earlier.

There have been previous fires sparked by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, including a house fire in Nanaimo in March 2018 when a vaping device’s overheated batteries burst into flames.

“I wouldn’t say it’s huge, but they do malfunction and they are known to cause fires because they pack a huge amount of power in them and these particular batteries are soft – the cells themselves are covered in a soft cover – and if that gets punctured the material inside reacts violently with air and can ignite spontaneously from being exposed,” Millbank said.

Lithium-ion batteries come in a variety of physical and chemical configurations and are used in a wide range of applications that include radio-controlled cars and drones, cell phones and are even used to power some electric vehicles, but they can burn violently when overheated or physically damaged. Millbank recommends keeping lithium-ion batteries in a metal ammunition box or fire-resistant Lipo bag to improve safety when charging or storing them.

Millbank said lithium-ion polymer batteries used in hobby applications, because of their construction and application, should be given special care when handling and charging.

“You just can’t treat them like normal batteries,” Millbank said. “They’re not built the same way. I’m not an expert on batteries, but these ones require a little special handling. They shouldn’t be left near combustible materials. They get hot.”

All types of batteries can overheat, leak corrosive or dangerous chemicals, start fires and even explode if they are handled carelessly, misused or improperly disposed of and should be treated with safety in mind. The Government of Canada offers precautions and general safe handling advice for consumer batteries at https://bit.ly/3gSFiyI.



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