Fire Precautions with Notebook Computers and Batteries

U.S. transportation officials warned travelers yesterday to take precautions when flying with battery-powered gear such as laptops and cell phones after two in-flight fires involving batteries were reported in the last six weeks.

Notebook Computer Battery Safety Tips
According to an advisory from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), passengers should keep spare batteries in their original retail packaging; keep loose batteries covered with insulating tape to protect them from contact with metal objects; place each battery in its own protective case, plastic bag, or package; and pack spare batteries in carry-on baggage, rather than checked baggage. Also, passengers should use only chargers designed for the battery type and take steps to prevent crushing, puncturing or dropping batteries.

On February 10, a fire broke out in the overhead baggage compartment on a JetBlue flight. Preliminary investigation results indicate one or more loose batteries may have been the source of the fire. On March 18, PHMSA received reports that a battery had overheated or ignited on board an American Airlines aircraft flying from Argentina. In each case, airline employees responded quickly, extinguishing the fire and safely landing the aircraft.

On a MacTalk forum from Australia (mactalk.com.au) a poster (mattyb) reported that his MacBook melted and became severely charred on the bottom after he was awakened to find a fire starting. A shelf and several nearby magazines were also burned. The forum post reported that no unusual heat or other physical characteristics preceded the fire, but that battery performance was poor for the preceding three weeks, including endurance cut in half. During the three days preceding the fire, the battery would not charge to 100% — it would flicker between 99% and 100% charge.

Last year a laptop was the source of a fire that started in a family room in Arlington Heights, Illinois.

Last October 2006 Sony (the actual battery manufacturer), Apple, Dell and other computer manufacturers announced battery recalls. The recalls affect more than 3.4 million batteries, of which 340,000 were sold in the U.S. In addition to notebooks manufactured by Sony, the recall includes models from Gateway, Fujitsu and Toshiba.

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For more information …
Apple Computer Battery Exchange Program
Consumer Product Safety Commission CPSC Release
DellBatteryProgram.com
Dell Notebook Battery Recalls/Dell Product Recalls
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