Battery-in-bin flames spark call for proper disposal

The number of structure fires caused by batteries has jumped in the past two years, prompting warnings about disposal and calls not to charge a device under a pillow, on the bed or on a sofa in the event of a overheated.

Fire and Emergency NZ (Fenz) says the number of structure fires caused by batteries has increased nationwide from 47 in 2019 to 73 in 2020 and 82 in 2021.

Confined batteries are believed to have caused more than 40 fires at landfills and resource recovery centers in Nelson-Tasman in the past 12 months, a trend that has been called a “growing phenomenon”.

These damages show up in insurance statistics, with AMI claiming that home fires caused by lithium-ion batteries and their charging systems account for at least one home insurance claim per month.

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A battery in a cell phone or a discarded tool or toy is believed to be the probable cause of a fire in a compaction bin at the Mariri Resource Recovery Center on January 23.  Battery packs are said to have caused 12 fires in the past 12 months.  at the Richmond Materials Recovery Facility or Tasman District Resource Recovery Centres.

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A battery in a cell phone or a discarded tool or toy is believed to be the probable cause of a fire in a compaction bin at the Mariri Resource Recovery Center on January 23. Battery packs are said to have caused 12 fires in the past 12 months. at the Richmond Materials Recovery Facility or Tasman District Resource Recovery Centres.

Data from the AMI suggests that these types of home fires are not only increasing in frequency, but are more likely to cause serious damage compared to other types of fires – many resulting in the loss of an entire home.

Lithium-ion batteries are found in many devices, including smartphones, laptops, e-bikes, scooters, e-cigarettes, smoke detectors, toys, and cars.

Fenz risk reduction and investigations manager Todd O’Donoghue said the risk of fire was higher if the batteries overheated or were damaged, such as when they were crushed by a compactor in a truck to garbage.

“If a fire starts, the initial combustion is extremely hot,” O’Donoghue said, adding that an intense fire could easily spread quickly.

Anyone inside a home when such a fire has started should get out quickly and not come back.

“Call 111 and let us come and take care of it,” he said.

The recycling was diverted to a landfill while firefighters extinguished the blaze at the Richmond Materials Recovery Facility.

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The recycling was diverted to a landfill while firefighters extinguished the blaze at the Richmond Materials Recovery Facility.

AMI says Executive Managing Director Dean MacGregor said it was devastating to see cases of battery-powered devices starting fires that could have dire consequences.

“By raising awareness of this emerging trend, we want to remind Kiwis why it is so important to treat lithium-ion battery equipment with extra care, to protect themselves and their families from the increased risk of fire,” said MacGregor.

Fire and Emergency New Zealand

Peter Gallagher, National Fire Risk Advisor, discusses fire safety. First published June 22, 2021.

The gadgets causing these fires were increasingly diverse.

“Some of the recent claims we have received include a model helicopter that caught fire while in charge, an electronic tool left charging in a garage overnight that ignited and destroyed an entire home, and several cases of phones and laptops that caught fire after being left to charge on a bed,” MacGregor said.

Fenz has safety tips for lithium-ion batteries on its website, including a plea not to charge a device under a pillow, on the bed, or on a sofa if it overheats. Fenz also urges people not to use or charge any battery that shows signs of swelling, overheating or damage. Only the battery designed for the device and accompanying charging equipment should be used. Batteries and devices should not be left in direct sunlight or in hot vehicles and batteries should be stored away from anything that can catch fire.

Judene Edgar, president of the Nelson Tasman Regional Landfill business unit, said additional water storage and thermal imaging cameras had been installed at the York Valley landfill to help tackle the fires started by discharged batteries.

JOE LLOYD/STUFF

Judene Edgar, president of the Nelson Tasman Regional Landfill business unit, said additional water storage and thermal imaging cameras had been installed at the York Valley landfill to help tackle the fires started by discharged batteries.

Nelson Tasman Regional Landfill Business Unit chairwoman, Nelson Deputy Mayor Judene Edgar, said fires started by dumped batteries at the York Valley landfill had become “a growing phenomenon” with nearly 30 in the last 12 month.

Additional water storage and thermal imaging cameras, to detect hot spots, had been installed at the site, which is a regional landfill jointly owned by Nelson City and Tasman District Councils.

In an effort to keep batteries out of the waste streams in the first place, both councils have provided free battery drop-off points at their offices and at landfill sites. The collection boxes have an internal liner to help protect against any arcing of the batteries.

O’Donoghue urged people to use drop-off points, so batteries can be disposed of properly. Some other councils across the country also offered the service.

Free battery drop off points in Nelson-Tasman

• Nelson City Council Customer Service Center on Trafalgar St;

• Nelson Environment Center in Tahunanui;

• Waste collection center on Vivian Place;

• Greenmeadows Pūtangitangi Community Centre, from February 28;

• Tasman District Council service centers in Richmond, Motueka and Tākaka;

• Tasman Resource Recovery Centers at Richmond, Motueka (Lower Moutere), Murchison, Tākaka and Collingwood;

• ​Weka Peckers Recycling, Robinson Road, Lower Moutere.

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