Fire Officials Warn Against Altering E-Cigarettes After Explosions - NBC4 Washington
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Fire Officials Warn Against Altering E-Cigarettes After Explosions

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    A Maryland woman tells how an electronic cigarette set a fire in her home. News4's Scott MacFarlane reports on how federal officials say e-cigarettes can cause fires or explosions if misused or malfunctioning. (Published Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015)

    Fire officials are warning e-cigarette users against modifying or altering the devices following a report about fires and explosions. 

    Federal investigators documented at least 25 incidents of fires or explosions triggered by misused or malfunctioning electronic cigarettes. The U.S. Fire Administration, which issued a report detailing some of those incidents, specifies many of the fires or explosions were triggered while users were charging the devices.

    An I-Team review of Maryland State Police reports revealed a recent explosion incident in Garrett County. Gina Kisner and her husband called the state fire marshal after an e-cigarette exploded while charging in a home computer. The incident triggered a fire inside their Oakland home and nearly spread to an oxygen tank her husband was using for breathing.

    “(My husband) was using this device to stop smoking,” Kisner said. “It just shot across the room. It was a big bang right beneath his bed. The carpet caught fire.”

    The U.S. Fire Administration’s review of fire incidents said fires are rare, but nevertheless dangerous. According to the agency’s report, “Most of the incidents resulted in ignition of nearby contents, such as carpets, drapes, bedding, couches or vehicle seats. Fortunately, users were generally nearby when the incident occurred.”

    The Office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal said most fires or explosions involving e-cigarettes occur because users attempt to manipulate or alter the device. In some cases, the fires are ignited by the use of improper charging cords, some of which are too powerful to be used for e-cigarettes.

    In other recent incidents, electronic cigarettes exploded in the faces of users. One Florida man was put into a coma by the force of the explosion. In another Florida case, which was detailed by the U.S. Fire Administration report, a user lost teeth and part of his or her tongue when a device exploded during usage.

    Sean Robinson, owner of the District Vapes shop in Northeast D.C., said novice e-cigarette users are sometimes tempted to doctor the devices.

    “They usually want more sensation,” Robinson said. “They want more flavor. So instead of buying a better device, they try to modify the one they have.”

    Robinson said he warns customers against doing so and offers to make any needed adjustments to devices free of charge for his customers.

    The Smoke-Free Alternatives Trade Association, an industry group representing electronic cigarette manufacturers, issued a statement to the News4 I-Team about fire risks:

    “As with other rechargeable electrical equipment, consumer goods such as laptops and cellphones, we recognize that there have been reported instances of lithium ion batteries malfunctioning, in this case with the use of modified vaporizers. While these incidents are taken very seriously, millions of former smokers across the United States and overseas continue to use these products as intended and have found vaping to be a significant alternative to combustible cigarettes.”

    A spokesman for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs said, “Always use the charging device that comes with the appliance and to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the use of the charger and the e-cigarette appliance.”

    The e-cigarette industry is operating free of government regulations. Though some rules are reportedly under consideration, a spokesman for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration told the I-Team, “Currently, these products are not regulated by anyone.”

    “We understand the manufacturers of the e-cigarettes are aggressively addressing the issues related to these products and some of the incidents that have occurred involved improper charging devices or modifications by the end user to the e-cigarette itself,” Maryland State Fire Marshal Brian S. Geraci said. “Although incidents in Maryland have been exceedingly rare, the potential still exists for an accidental fire related incident to occur. We recommend, as with any electrical appliance, to please read and follow manufacturers’ guidelines when choosing to purchase and use the products.”