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EMF Studies

22 October 2015

Exploding Smartphones: A Look at Why Your Electronics Might Catch Fire

A damaged iPhone that caught fire and
burned through a man's jeans after it
was bent in an accident.
Exploding smartphones: After two recent cases in Alberta, a look at why your electronics might catch fire
by Tristin Hopper, nationalpost.com, 19 May 2015

EDMONTON — Twice in the last week, an Alberta family has been forced to flee for their lives after a charging cell phone burst into flames, part of a rare worldwide phenomenon in which smartphones occasionally transform into tiny Presto logs.

In Rimbey, Alta., 16-year-old Josh Schultz woke up surrounded by flames after his iPhone combusted in the middle of the night. The family managed to get the blaze under control, but not before Schulz had suffered third-degree burns, and the house had been rendered temporarily uninhabitable.

Three days later, an Edmonton fourplex was evacuated in the wee hours of the morning after a charging cell phone began shooting out flames.

Edmonton Fire blamed “electrical malfunction” for the blaze, which set off “smoke and fire damage that is estimated to total $175,000.”

While Alberta has been getting a disproportionate share of exploding cell phones of late, the phenomenon is known worldwide.

U.S. teenagers have been sent diving for cover after their pants have combusted in class. Airline passengers in both Australia and Israel have been victims of the terrifying experience of a smartphone erupting in the cabin.

And in Tuscan, Arizona, a man emerged uninjured from a pedicab crash, only to have thick smoke begin issuing from his jeans.

The phone was malfunctioning after having been bent in the crash, and it burned through the man’s pants, underwear and skin until he tossed it to the sidewalk.

“This was a surreal experience, and if it hadn’t happened to me I wouldn’t believe it myself,” Phillip Lecter reported in a blog post.

While flaming smartphones are still remarkably rare, they have been attributed to overheating and knockoff charger cables, as well as the inevitable manufacturing defects spawned by filling the world with 2 billion smartphones.

“Where there’s an electric current flowing through a circuit, there’s a chance that a component will overheat and start a fire,” reads a 2013 article on Android Authority.

“Smartphones make no difference, and, with adoption rates growing every day, accidents are bound to happen.”

What makes smartphones particularly explosive is their lithium-ion batteries, which are packed with an incredible amount of energy, and are slightly more volatile than disposable alkaline batteries.

In fact, a growing number of air freight companies have banned the shipment of smartphone batteries after a Boeing 747 cargo plane ploughed into the desert outside Dubai due to a shipment of lithium ion batteries that caught fire.

For the same reason, laptop computers are similarly known to violently combust. Famously, at a Japanese conference in 2006, a Dell laptop spontaneously exploded in full view of dozens of witnesses.

Smartphone fires are typically kicked off by a short-circuit, which can be sparked by anything from corrosion within the phone to faulty third-party batteries and charger cables.

Last year, the London Fire Brigade specifically warned Britons to avoid knockoff iPhone chargers unless they wanted to suffer electrocution, burns or the total destruction of their home.

“I was shocked at how potentially dangerous these chargers are,” fire investigator Andrew Vaughan–Davies said in a statement. “There have been some near misses in the last few months and, unless people stop buying them, it’s only a matter of time before we are called to a fatal fire.”

That same year, the government of New South Wales, Australia issued a similar warning against “non-compliant USB style chargers.” In that case, the cause for the warning wasn’t fire, but the recent fatal electrocution of a 28-year-old woman.

In at least one of the Alberta cases, firefighters have already concluded that the destruction might have been easily prevented.

In Rimbey, firefighters blamed the fact that the iPhone had been left to charge under bedcovers.

“It got smothered enough that it couldn’t get rid of any heat, and it eventually got too hot,” said John Weisgerber, chief of the Rimbey volunteer fire department.

“I’ve seen other [fires] like it … [electronics] are engineered to take a lot, but every once in a while you’re going to get one that’s just not going to take it.”

National Post

thopper@nationalpost.com
Twitter.com/TristinHopper







http://news.nationalpost.com/news/exploding-smartphones-why-your-electronics-might-catch-fire

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