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Fire officials warn of rising lithium-ion battery fires

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Fire officials in Simcoe County and across the country are warning of a rapid increase in lithium-ion battery fires.

On Friday, a fire sparked by a lithium-ion battery charger caused considerable damage to an Orillia home and injured two people, including a firefighter.

One week prior, an e-bike also burst into flames in the city.

The two fires add to the increasing woes for firefighters trying to combat lithium-ion battery fires.

"They are concerning to us, the nature of how quickly they ignite and the risk that they pose to occupants," said Orillia Fire Chief Michael Clark.

Difficult to Extinguish

Clark said the fires act in a highly aggressive manner due to thermal runaway, which occurs when batteries explode or burst into flames when improperly used.

"What happens is the cells start to heat up and eventually emit gas and ignite," he said. "The problem is different than other batteries or other kinds of fires that we have. They're very difficult to extinguish. Once they go into thermal runaway, it's impossible for us to reverse that process."

Cause and Prevention

According to officials, the fires can often be attributed to improper care, illegal or third-party devices, or alterations to batteries.

Ken McMullen is the president of the Canadian Association of Fire Chiefs.

According to him, the batteries found in small devices like cellphones and laptops, e-bikes and electronic vehicles are often found to be tampered with by those trying to make the devices last longer or work faster.

"People are doing all sorts of things unprofessionally to extend the life of these batteries, to increase power on these batteries," he explained.

McMullen said reading manufacturer warnings is critical to understanding how the product is intended to work and avoid fires.

It's also essential to ensure the batteries aren't left unattended while being charged.

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