How this fire happened
Electronic cigarettes have become popular in recent years with people wanting to reduce the amount of tobacco they smoke or stop smoking altogether.
But in this instance, the potential health benefits were nearly outweighed by the risk of fire when an e-cigarette caused significant damage to a flat.
E-cigarettes have a battery-operated heating coil that gently heats nicotine liquid from a cartridge, enabling the user to inhale a nicotine vapour.
This is believed to be less harmful than inhaling nicotine and smoke from a traditional cigarette.
The heating coil is powered by a rechargeable lithium battery. In this incident, the e-cigarette had been plugged in using a USB charger, was receiving an incorrect charge and had been left unattended in the property.
Unlike other common battery-powered devices, such as mobile phones, some e-cigarettes do not have an in-built setting to switch off once the battery is full. This is believed to have contributed to the cause of the fire.
Within 25 minutes of putting the e-cigarette on charge, the fire alarm sounded in the block of flats. Unfortunately it was dismissed as a false alarm, leaving the fire to develop further.
Smoke was eventually spotted coming from the roof and the fire and rescue service called. Although there was significant damage to the flat, good quality fire doors in the property stopped the fire from spreading.
A number of fire and rescue services have begun to show an interest in e-cigarettes as a possible cause of ignition and there is growing concern that, in common with any other consumer product, there may be an unregulated illegal supply and some charging mechanisms may not be up to UK specifications.
Electronic cigarettes are an increasingly popular way for people to reduce the amount of tobacco they smoke or stop smoking altogether. While the immediate health benefits may be obvious, e-cigarettes they can pose a fire safety risk.
E-cigarettes have a battery-operated heating coil that gently heats nicotine liquid from a cartridge, enabling the user to inhale a nicotine vapour. This is believed to be less harmful than inhaling nicotine and smoke from a traditional cigarette.
The heating coil is powered by a rechargeable lithium ion battery and these have been known to catch fire if they are overcharged, defective or damaged. This can lead to a cycle of heating called ‘thermal run away’ and may cause a fire.
This incident, which happened at a residential nursing home in Derbyshire, unfortunately led to the death of an elderly resident. The initial fire was caused by an e-cigarette battery pack which heated other combustible material while charging. There was a localised fire followed by an explosion involving a nearby aerosol containing flammable gas.
Parts of the battery pack and the cigarette were projected up to 2m from the seat of the fire – the distance travelled and force of the explosion are clearly shown in the photographs.
Other fire and rescue services are interested in the potential fire risk posed by e-cigarettes. There is growing concern that, in common with any other consumer product, there may be an unregulated illegal supply and some charging mechanisms or batteries may not be up to UK specifications.
Thank you to Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service for providing this case study.
Make sure that you purchase them from a reputable source
Speak to a healthcare professional about the most appropriate and effective nicotine replacement therapy to help you reduce the harm caused by smoking, including gums, patches and mouth sprays
Check the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) website for the latest advice on the regulation of e-cigarettes as Nicotine Containing Products (NCPs)
Keep an eye on the Electronic Cigarette Trade Industry Trade Association's website for the industry's response to increasing MHRA regulation
Contact Trading Standards if you have any doubts about the safety of e-cigarettes being sold locally
Test your smoke alarm regularly.
Assume that e-cigarettes are the most effective or safest way to reduce harm caused by smoking
Leave items on charge unattended for long periods if at all possible