The aftermath of a fire started by overheated batteries in a drawer are shown in Charlottetown in this recent handout photo. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO - Damien Morris)

Battery fires: The potential danger hiding in your kitchen junk drawer

Batteries sparked a fire that nearly burned down a Canadian home

After putting up Christmas decorations this year, Damien Morris had some extra batteries left over and did what many people do — tossed them in a drawer for future use.

The loose batteries sparked a fire that could have destroyed his Charlottetown, P.E.I., home.

Morris said he had no idea batteries could pose such a danger, and he is sharing his story to warn others — with experts saying such fires are more common than most Canadians realize.

Health Canada says it received more than 100 consumer reports over the last year involving batteries — everything from overheating to starting fires.

“Any type of battery could potentially be a problem,” said Andrew Hulan, a product safety officer with Health Canada.

“The type of battery, when it does fail, that we tend to see more issues with is lithium-ion batteries. It just happens to be that the material with which a lithium-ion battery is constructed is reactive to the air. If that battery is breached, it fails in almost an explosive manner,” he said.

In July, the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Fire Services issued warnings after two fires were blamed on lithium-ion batteries.

One of the fires, that left a brother and sister homeless in St. John’s, was blamed on batteries in a radio-controlled toy car.

Luckily, Morris’ Nov. 18 fire scare in Charlottetown wasn’t as tragic.

“At 2:30 in the morning we heard our smoke detectors going off. I got up and got the kids. My wife got up and said ‘I smell something weird’,” Morris said.

They went downstairs to discover the main floor of the home full of smoke, with the worst of the smoke in the kitchen, where it was billowing from a kitchen drawer.

“I opened the drawer and it all went in flames. I shut it quick. I grabbed the drawer and got my wife to open the patio door and I threw it outside,” Morris said.

“The fire damage wasn’t so bad. It was mostly smoke damage.”

Morris said emergency crews arrived and the fire marshal determined that the ‘C’ and ‘D’ size batteries he had stored in the drawer had started the fire.

“The two male ends of the batteries connected, creating heat energy and caught the combustible dish towels on fire,” he said.

Raynald Marchand, general manager of the Canada Safety Council, warns problems can often occur when charging batteries near fabric and other combustibles.

“It’s important that when you recharge the rechargeable batteries that you do it in a safe area so that they don’t overheat, and preferably recharge them when you’re home,” he said. “Computers which have large batteries are often recharged while on a couch or on a bed and they can produce quite a bit of heat while they are being recharged.”

He said lithium-ion batteries are of particular concern because they pack a lot of power and the contacts or terminals are often along one side.

“If you take a battery for a laptop or camera, all the terminals are on one side, so if those terminals are set against, say, a wet towel, or something else it is more problematic,” Marchand said.

Hulan said the main cause of problems is people not following the instructions that come with the batteries, particularly when it comes to charging them.

“Batteries are designed to be charged at a specific current and voltage. If you use a charger that is not rated to your battery then you increase the likelihood of overheating and damage to that battery,” Hulan said.

Both Marchand and Hulan say batteries need to be stored properly in their original container, or other non-conductive packaging to prevent them from being shorted.

And they say spent batteries should be taken to a proper recycling centre and never tossed in the garbage or in a fire.

Hulan also warns against improper storage of the small, “button” style batteries common in watches, greeting cards, and some toys and LED lights.

He said Health Canada has investigated a number of cases where young children have gotten the small batteries and swallowed them.

“That battery can actually burn through their oesophagus, their windpipe or stomach, and that leads to very serious and potentially fatal injuries,” he said.

Hulan said anyone experiencing a battery issue they believe poses a hazard should report it to Health Canada.

Morris said he’s just glad he was home when the fire started — or their house could have been destroyed.

He says with the holiday season upon us, and an increase in battery use, he hopes more people heed the warnings about battery safety.

Kevin Bissett, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

West Kootenay couple escapes Spain – safe, sound, and in self-isolation

BC couple Garrett Kucher and Tory Apostoliuk make it home after almost a week of lockdown in Spain

Hospital’s Chief of Staff asks residents for help containing COVID-19

Invermere & District Hospital Chief of Staff says COVID-19 cases here, caution and care needed

Social media a blessing and a curse during time of crisis: B.C. communication expert

‘In moments of crisis, fear is very real and palpable,’ says SFU’s Peter Chow-White

Interior Health officials outline pandemic response in virtual town hall

Kelowna-Lake County MLA Norm Letnick moderates digital discussion, Q&A with Interior Health leadership

MP Morrison touts non-partisan effort to provide relief amid COVID-19 pandemic

The federal government has announced a slew of economic initiatives for those impacted by the pandemic

Canada expands 75% wage subsidy to COVID-19 affected businesses of all sizes: Trudeau

Program will provide up to $847 per week for each worker

LifeLabs reducing public hours as it assists with COVID-19 testing

Coronavirus tests not done at B.C. patient centres, referrals only

24,000 Canadian Forces members ready to be deployed to help with COVID-19 response

No direct requests made by premiers yet, national defence minister says

IN DEPTH: How B.C. emptied its hospitals to prepare for COVID-19

Thousands of beds have been freed up, but patients and seniors have had to sacrifice

Kootenay Meadows Farm experiencing shortage of glass milk bottles

Some grocery stores have stopped accepting bottle returns amid COVID-19 concerns

Crucial details of Ottawa’s proposed wage subsidy program expected today

The government has rolled out a bailout package totalling more than $200 billion

‘Nothing concrete’: Tenants, landlords lack details after B.C. unveils COVID-19 rental aid

Single mom in Golden says she’s already going to the food bank after being laid off

B.C. is seeing the highest rate of COVID-19 recovery in Canada, and there’s a few reasons why

British Columbia was one of the first to see rise in COVID-19 cases, and has also switched up testing

Most Read