‘Everything has its ignition point’

A Red Deer fire prevention officer has not come across a blazing smartphone in his 30 years on the job.

A Red Deer fire prevention officer has not come across a blazing smartphone in his 30 years on the job.

But Wes Van Bavel says it is not as odd as it might seem.

He said lithium-ion batteries, which power cellphones, have the potential to overheat and start a fire, especially when placed under something like a pillow or when leaning against something.

“Everything has its ignition point,” he said. “If that product gets to ignition point, yeah it can start a fire.”

A Rimbey teenager was badly burned after his iPhone 5c caught fire while he was sleeping late Sunday night. His phone was charging on a night stand next to his bed.

Van Bavel said it takes quite a bit of heat for that product to break down and start liberating the gases that burn.

“That phone would have to had to really be hot to start heating a product up to get to that point to ignite its gases,” said Van Bavel. “Who knows? We would have to do an investigation.”

But he said anything can happen when you are talking electronics, including product malfunction.

He said some people tamper with their devices to ‘jailbreak’ (modify the operating system), replace batteries and fix problems.

The user or the manufacturer could be the culprit in this case.

Van Bavel estimated that fewer than three per cent of all fires in Alberta are electrical in nature.

“It’s very rare,” he said. “We just don’t have outlets or wiring in homes starting on fire. Usually it is an appliance or something plugged into (the outlet).”

Recently a fire at a Red Deer restaurant started when a cooler was pushed against a plug in the wall, dislodging it so that some combustibles caught on fire.

“It was an electrical fire but it was an accident,” he said. “It was a user fault. When we get to these electronics, it’s rare that we come across these things.”

Users should not be worried about plugging in their devices overnight or for long periods of time, he said.

“Follow your manufacturer’s recommendations with any device you buy,” he said. “If your cellphone company says do not plug it unattended, I would be surprised.”

Van Bavel encourages people to use ULC or CSA-rated accessories to go with the devices.

“There should not be any products sold in Canada that are not ULC or CSA rated,” said Van Bavel. “The knockoffs are fine to use as long as they meet those ULC or CSA ratings, which they all should.”

He doesn’t suggest putting the devices under pillows or blankets while charging.

But, “Don’t be afraid to plug it in,” he said.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com