A family of four has been displaced after a house fire broke out in the bedroom shortly before 10 p.m. on Monday. It was caused by an overheated vaping device, and Nanaimo Fire Rescue is warning that malfunctioning e-cigarettes could start more fires in other homes and even aircraft.
Alan Millbank, Nanaimo Fire Rescue fire prevention officer, who investigated the blaze, determine the fire started when a vaping device that was tightly packed in a backpack overheated and caught fire.
“The smoke alarms alerted [the homeowner] to the fire,” Millbank said.
But by the time the homeowner was able to return with a fire extinguisher, the fire was fully involved in the bedroom and already too intense for him to fight effectively.
Everyone got out safely, there were no reported injuries and the homeowners are insured, but Millbank is warning that the particular brand of vaping device, which was purchases with others online from China, could spark more fires. Millbank said the Wismec, model Exo Skeleton ES300, units are made in China and do not have Underwriters Labs Canada or Canadian Standards Association certification for use in Canada marked on them and are potentially dangerous. In fact all three of the devices that the family member purchased have malfunctioned and melted due to overheating.
“As it turns out there were several other e-cigarettes purchased by the individual at the house that also overheated,” Millbank said. “This one happened to be in a backpack so it had a thermal runaway, but the other ones that he had given or sold to friends had also melted.”
Millbank suspects a button that must be pressed to activate the unit doesn’t have an automatic shut-off feature, so if packed tightly with clothes or other items in a backpack or suitcase, the button might be held down causing the element that heats the vaping product to overheat and catch fire.
The other possible cause, Millbank said, is that the unit’s charging system could be faulty, causing the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries to overheat and catch fire.
He said this particular fire spread very quickly and the bedroom was fully involved in flame in under two minutes, possibly because one of the unit’s lithium-ion batteries exploded and showered flaming material to other combustible items in the bedroom.
“So luckily only one house burned down, but you know, this thing has been travelling around in airplanes … it went with him to Bulgaria and it could have gone off in an airplane,” Millbank said. “The other thing is lithium batteries require software to regulate the charging rate … because the batteries become volatile if they’re too rapidly charged and he had just done a software update and this happened. It has a microprocessor in it that manages the charging rate.”
Millbank said he was not aware of any of safety warnings about the product from Health Canada, but Transport Canada has issued a warning in February about packing the devices in baggage on board aircraft and there are media reports online from the United States and Europe of overheating, fires and explosions associated with e-cigarette units including the Wismec model.
“We don’t know exactly what caused the device to fail, but there are basically three examples of this device in Nanaimo, all from the same Internet site, made by Wismec,” Millbank said.
Wismec did not reply to a request for comment by press time.