Kiwis told to take extra care after increase in house fires caused by charging batteries

Lithium-ion battery fires are more likely to cause severe damage compared to other types.
Lithium-ion battery fires are more likely to cause severe damage compared to other types. Photo credit: Getty Images

Kiwis are being told to take extra care while charging battery-powered devices after a rise in the number of household fires caused by lithium-ion batteries and their chargers.

Insurance company AMI said at least one home insurance claim each month is for fire damage started this way, with fires more likely to cause severe damage compared to other types of fires.

 "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 fire risk." AMI's executive general manager of claims Dean MacGregor said.

As the number of gadgets increase so does the risk of something going wrong, the company said. All electrical devices have the potential to overheat, possibly causing a devastating fire.

MacGregor said the gadgets causing the fires are also becoming increasingly diverse.

"Some of the recent claims we've received include a model helicopter that caught fire while on charge, an e-tool left to charge in a garage overnight which ignited and destroyed an entire home, and multiple cases of phones and laptops catching fire after being left to charge on a bed."

"Of particular concern are the number of cases where the fire is not noticed until it was well established – either because it started in the garage and was too far away to trigger a smoke alarm, or simply because fires from lithium-ion batteries are particularly intense and grow very fast," he said.

That means Kiwis need to be extra vigilant when it comes to safe handling and charging of their devices.

"This means always following the device manufacturer's safety guidelines, as well as advice from Fire and Emergency New Zealand," MacGregor said.

"Ensure there are functioning smoke alarms in areas of the home where these gadgets are being charged and stored, including garages, outdoor studios and hobby rooms."

Lithium-ion battery safety tips from Fire and Emergency New Zealand

  • Do not charge a device under a pillow, on the bed or on a couch – they can overheat and cause a fire
  • Don't use or charge a battery that shows signs of swelling, overheating or damage
  • Only use the battery that is designed for the device
  • Only use the charging equipment that came with the device, and don’t use it if it's damaged
  • Do not leave batteries or devices in direct sunlight or in hot vehicles
  • Store batteries away from anything that can catch fire

If you have concerns

  • If your device or battery is very hot, smoking or catches fire while charging, turn off the power if this can be done safely
  • Move the device away from anything that can catch fire
  • If you are in any immediate danger, get out and call 111

Battery disposal

  • Do not put lithium-ion batteries in the rubbish
  • Recycling is always the best option – contact your local council for a recycling location
  • Do not leave discarded batteries stored in piles, keep them separated until you can arrange for recycling