Our CSC neighbor Cindi Edelschein stopped by Station 19 to thank CSC Volunteers and AA career “D” Shift for extinguishing her house fire on Rolling View Dr., nearly two years ago. Cindi said: “Today it’s been 657 days since that fire that destroyed our home. Yes, I’m counting every day. Re-construction is almost complete, and we plan to move back home from our temporary lodgings next week.” Fortunately, the Edelscheins had working smoke detectors. No one was injured, and even their dog was rescued. But the home, and almost all their possessions, were a tragic unexpected loss.
The probable cause of this fire was determined to be accidental, most likely ignited by a Lithium-Ion battery charging for their cordless weed eater. Cindi said her family would never again leave Li-Ion batteries on charge unattended. This is good advice for all of us, and a recommendation from the National Fire Protection Association, as well as the AA County Fire Marshal’s Office.
Due to their ability to store a large amount of energy in a compact space, Li-Ion batteries are widely used. They’re in our laptops, cell phones, portable radios, iPads, and nearly every rechargeable “wireless” device you can think of. This same asset of high energy density is also a liability if they are over-charged or damaged. A lot of energy is released in a short period of time, and fires result. The chemical electrolyte within the batteries is actually a flammable liquid, like diesel fuel or gasoline. Even in a small quantity, it burns, unlike the (distilled water + sulfuric acid) electrolyte in car batteries. When one cell in a battery starts overheating, the phenomena of “thermal runaway” usually burns the whole battery until it burns itself out. Unfortunately that becomes a competent ignition source to ignite any nearby combustibles like plastics and fabrics, and then grow into a structure fire.
The detrimental impacts of Covid, global supply chain, and skilled craft worker shortages caused the re-build of Cindi’s home to extend much longer than the 6 to 12 months which would have been expected prior to 2020. But now, after nearly 2 years, she’s preparing to move back into her re-built home.
Serious fires are a low frequency, but high severity risk event. Everything we can do to prevent fires such as safe handling of Li batteries, safety with open flames, gasoline-fueled devices, and safe cooking can minimize or eliminate tragedies such as happened to the Edelscheins.