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

A health-care worker prepares to swab a man at a walk-in COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal North, Sunday, May 10, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues in Canada and around the world. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
Interior Health records 21 new COVID-19 cases over the weekend

Thirty-six cases remain active; two people are in the hospital, one of whom is in intensive care

Colin James put on a great show at the Comox Valley Exhibition Grounds as part of the 2019 Vancouver Island MusicFest. But his Okanagan tour for 2020 has been postponed until 2021. (Photo by Terry Farrell)
COVID-19 cancels more Vernon, Penticton, Cranbrook concerts

The Contenders and Colin James postponed until 2021

Kimberley Minor Hockey players scrimmage with the Dynamiters last year. KMH file
Kimberley and Cranbrook Minor Hockey relationship grows the game for local players

Players can now play to their skill level regardless of city of origin

The KEYSA Indoor Facility is nearing completion as the air-supported dome was raised last week. Trevor Crawley photo.
KEYSA indoor facility project nearing completion

Project remains on budget and set for completion by the end of October

The old Kootenay Springs building on 6th Street in Cranbrook, just off the highway, was on fire Saturday night, Oct 17. Barry Coulter photo
Kootenay Springs building, burns in Cranbrook; other fires still under investigation

Derelict building was on the site of the old Cranbrook Brewery, itself destroyed by fire 95 years ago

With local MLA Adam Olsen looking on, BC Greens leader Sonia Furstenau said a Green government would convert BC Ferries into a Crown corporation Wolf Depner/News Staff)
Green leader Sonia Furstenau promises to convert BC Ferries back into Crown corporation

Promise comes Monday afternoon with five days left in campaign

A passer-by walks past a COVID-19 testing clinic in Montreal, Friday, Oct. 16, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Canada ‘yet to see’ deaths due to recent COVID surge as cases hit 200,000

Much of the increase in case numbers can be attributed to Ontario and Quebec

Police confirm human remains were found in a recycling bin in Vancouver on Oct. 18, 2020. (Black Press Media file photo)
Human remains found in recycling bin floating near Vancouver beach

Police asking nearby residents to see if their recycling bin has gone missing

B.C. Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson visits a North Vancouver daycare to announce his party’s election promises for child care, Oct. 9, 2020. (B.C. Liberal Party video)
B.C. parties pitch costly child care programs in pandemic

B.C. Liberals say they’ll deliver on NDP’s $10-a-day promise for lower-income families

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

A B.C. man decided to create a website to help people find family doctors accepting patients. Because Victoria is considered high-demand, clinic openings can’t be posted publicly. (Unsplash)
Vancouver Island man starts website that connects B.C. residents with doctors

Nanaimo man started project to help people find family physicians accepting patients

Voting station at Tzeachten Hall in the riding of Chilliwack-Kent on the first day of advance voting in the provincial election on Oct. 15, 2020. (Paul Henderson/ Chilliwack Progress)
B.C. VOTES 2020: 380,000 British Columbians head to polls in first 4 days of advance voting

Some of highest voter turnout so far has been seen on Vancouver Island and in Shuswap

Most Read