The Honolulu Fire Department said charging lithium ion batteries caused the fire that destroyed several units in an Ewa Townhouse complex on Feb. 1.
The batteries are found in electronics such as laptop computers and remote-controlled airplanes.
Homeowner Ben Nary suspected it had started with his remote control batteries that were charging in the garage. Honolulu Fire officials said Nary is probably correct.
“All we know is the heat was released from that area and it spread to combustibles nearby,” said Honolulu Fire Capt. Terry Seelig. “The fire grew rapidly and took off into the house.”
Lithium ion polymer batteries pack a lot of energy into a small package. Fire officials said people should be careful but not to be alarmed.
“Maybe look around and decide where can I place the battery so if there was something happening I’d be able to intervene safely and prevent it from getting worse,” Seelig said.
Fire officials suggest batteries charge where users can easily unplug the charger. They also suggest having a fire extinguisher on hand that a user knows how to operate. They recommend being on site and awake during the charging process.
KITV 4 Chief Engineer Rodney Shimabukuro is part of the Aloah RC Heli Club and flies helicopters. He said it is crucial to always check the battery to make sure it is not damaged.
“A good way to tell if your battery is damaged is to smell it, and if it smells like orange juice that it’s most likely leaking,” he said.
Shimabukuro said he charges batteries in a lipo bag that is designed to suppress the flames of a battery fire. Some hobbyists will charge them in ammunition cases.
Like fire officials, Shimabukuro suggests being alert.
“So (you) just want to be careful with the batteries,” he said. “Making sure you don’t over discharge. Make sure you don’t overcharge and make sure they’re not damaged and be there when it’s charging.”