HONOLULU(KHON2) — Lithium-ion batteries are found in items we use every day. Following simple safety guidelines can prevent them from causing problems– including catching fire.
The Honolulu Fire Department responded to a fire involving a lithium-ion battery on the North Shore near Sunset Beach Park in late June. A video of the incident shows sparks flying from the battery engulfed in flames.
According to Fire Captain Jaimie Kinard, the pack powered an eFoil surfboard but was removed from the eFoil before crews arrived. Kinard said they extinguished the fire, then bagged and removed the battery. The cause of the fire was determined “unintentional.”
It’s a reminder of how dangerous lithium-ion batteries can be.
Battery Bill, the owner of the Battery Bill’s shop, said practically everything that we use now has got a lithium battery in it.
“That even includes that thermometers that were popular during COVID,” Bill said. “It started off with cell phones– that was the smallest ones and they got bigger and bigger and bigger.”
Bill said they’re desirable because they are energy-efficient, rechargeable, and pack a lot of power into a small size.
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“A car battery is really big and heavy but you can get a lithium-ion battery that’s the size of your fist and weigh a quarter of the weight and it will give you the same kind of power because the power-to-weight ratio is so high with the lithium batteries,” Bill explained.
But he said their condensed power is also what makes them potentially volatile.
Manufacturers have made safety improvements in recent years but if used improperly they can still pose a threat.
Kinard said there are several things people can do to prevent an accident.
The first thing to remember is not to overcharge the batteries. Unplugging them once they are fully charged, especially before you go to sleep at night, can prevent them from overheating.
“Don’t charge them on your couch, or on your bed, or near any other flammable material,” Kinard explained.
And she said it’s important to use a charging cord made specifically for the device.
Even though most manufacturers are making battery casings stronger, dropping them can still pose a safety risk.
“Sometimes when they’re compromised, a lot of times if they’re dropped and damaged, or if people aren’t disposing of them properly, and maybe it gets crushed in a rubbish truck, it can cause a chemical reaction,” Kinard explained.
Getting the battery wet, or if the casing is damaged and water seeps into it, can also be very dangerous according to Bill.
“If you get it wet, then it could be a potential hazard,” Bill explained. “That water reacts with lithium to create hydrogen, which could create a bigger fire hazard.”
Kinard said if a lithium-ion battery catches fire, people should clear the area and call the police immediately.
“If it’s something like an electric car because those are lithium-ion batteries just on a larger scale, there’s really not a whole lot we can do with those electric car fires,” Kinard explained. “They typically burn for hours and cooling it only actually prolongs the fire.”