Reddit user vizionx1208 posted about their Samsung Galaxy S III exploding and catching fire while being charged recently. The pictures show the battery afterwards and the case being charred. You can see more pictures of the case and aftermath or more pictures of the battery.
As a result of the topic that was popular a few years ago coming up again, the topic of Lithium-Ion batteries catching on fire came up again. Therefore, it is wise to inform yourself of the right information on how you should react if your laptop, tablet, smartphone, or other electronic device catches fire suddenly.
The airline industry, for all of its “Please turn off all electronics“, has some excellent resources on Lithium battery fires and how to respond.
Aviatas, an aviation training company, has two slideshows with sound for different audiences that cover the topic full-circle. It explains lithium batteries, why they catch fire, how to prevent it, and how to fight a lithium battery fire. This could be single cells, battery packs, and multicell batteries.
- For Crew Airline & Airport Staff (those that might encounter Lithium batteries)
- For Non Crew Airline & Airport Staff
Thermal runaway is the cause for Lithium batteries catching fire and damaged batteries are more likely to experience thermal runaway. Other reasons for a fire starting could be manufacturer fault, over charging, or over discharging. While a lithium battery fire might extinguish itself fairly quickly, it will spew molten lithium which may spread the fire.
The preferred way of extinguishing a lithium battery is to:
- Unplug the item if it is on a charger.
- Use water to extinguish the fire and cool the cells at the same time. Use a halon extinguisher if a water extinguisher is not available.
- Ensure the fire does not start up again by keeping the cells cool with water (not ice).
The FAA has additional information about extinguishing handheld devices. The FAA also reports that as of October 9th, 2012 there have been 132 air incidents involving batteries since March 20th, 1991. The chart (.pdf) lists cargo and baggage incidents with batteries that they are aware of.
Lithium batteries are very common but fires involving lithium batteries are rare. If you experience one, you are very unlucky but you should feel lucky since you have read this information and are now prepared to respond to a lithium battery fire.