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

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Chilliwack artist turns Bonnie Henry painting into fundraising campaign

Steve Elliott’s painting is being printed on T-shirts to raise money for the Salvation Army

COVID-19 case confirmed at Highstreet Walmart in Abbotsford

Fraser Health sends out letter to those who might have had contact with individual

Racism wasn’t dealt with properly by school, says Chilliwack graduate

Woman tells story of being verbally assaulted at school for being black

$25 million Fraser Valley highway project 18 months behind schedule

Ministry says information security protocols have ‘evolved’ since construction on project wrapped up

Public participation is coming back to Chilliwack council meetings

City of Chilliwack will use Zoom video conferencing to allow the public to make presentations

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

New platform allows readers to make a one-time or ongoing donation to support local journalism

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

IHIT investigating ‘suspicious’ death of Surrey man

Officers found the body while on foot patrol: Surrey RCMP

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Protests shift to memorializing George Floyd amid push for change

‘There is something better on the other side of this,’ says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom

Limit gun capacity to five bullets, victims group urges Trudeau government

Current limits are generally five bullets for hunting rifles and shotguns and 10 for handguns.

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

Most Read