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Fire officials warn about increase in lithium-ion battery fires

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Fires caused by lithium-ion batteries are being called a “dangerous phenomenon.”

The batteries can be found in electric vehicles, e-bikes, e-scooters, cell phones and laptops.

But when it comes to fires, the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs said the problem is mostly with smaller mobility devices.

“We're seeing more tampering with those smaller devices, which might be the reason why we're seeing more fires in the smaller devices,” said the association’s president, Ken McMullen, in an interview with CTV News Kitchener.

Cambridge fire displaces dozens

Last week, a fire at an apartment complex in Cambridge, Ont. sent five people to hospital and displaced more than two dozen.

The Cambridge Fire Department believes lithium-ion batteries are to blame, but the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office said it’s too early to pinpoint the cause.

“We certainly have heard that there was a lithium-ion battery present,” Ontario Fire Marshal Jon Pegg said Tuesday.

While the on-scene portion of the investigation has wrapped up, there’s still a lot left to examine.

“Many of the items that they bring back, they'll do forensic testing on. So that's the stage we're in right now,” Pegg explained.

Cause and prevention

What makes lithium-ion battery fires so dangerous is how fast they can start and spread.

A PSA video from the Fire Safety Research Institute shows just how catastrophic they can be.

McMullen said that’s because of thermal runaway – when batteries explode or burst into flames when improperly used. When that happens, fires can be extremely difficult to contain and fight.

Preventing this type of fire can be done by being careful not to overcharge, overuse or modify the battery.

“We are certainly seeing an increase in individuals that are trying to make these units go faster, do things that they're not intended to do – have the battery lasts a little longer,” McMullen said.

Most electronics, lithium-ion or not, should be handled with care and as the manufacturer intended.

“All electronics are designed to be to be used and designed to be charged a certain way, modifying that in any way, either by changing the battery or getting a different cord, can impact the way that battery charges,” Pegg explained.

It’s also important to make sure the batteries aren’t left unattended while being charged, and in some cases, they aren’t intended to be charged indoors.

“If you notice any changes to the battery and odor coming off of it, swelling [or] extra heat, immediately stop using the device, get it to the outside. Ideally away from combustibles,” Pegg added.

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