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WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A HOVERBOARD

The Santa Rosa Fire Department issued the following safety recommendations for hoverboards:

* Check with your retailer regarding the safety of the hoverboard you are purchasing.

* Buy a hoverboard with a warranty from a reputable source.

* Read and follow all manufacturer directions including recommended charging times.

* Do not leave the hoverboard unattended while charging.

* If you notice the hoverboard is hot, stop using it and contact the manufacturer or retailer. This could suggest a faulty battery that needs replacing.

* After the hoverboard has been used, give it time to cool prior to re-charging.

* Charge the hoverboard in a safe location that is away from combustible materials.


A Santa Rosa fire that killed two dogs and severely damaged a home is the 40th reported fire in 19 states sparked by a hoverboard in a year, according to the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission.

A commission official said Wednesday that the agency is aware of the Santa Rosa blaze and that testing is underway on hoverboards, including those suspected in the spate of fires.

Santa Rosa fire investigators quickly determined Tuesday’s 5 p.m. fire started in the area where a hoverboard was plugged into the wall in a girl’s bedroom at the East Foothill Drive home in Santa Rosa’s Grace Tract neighborhood.

The fire caused an estimated $250,000 in damage to the house, which is uninhabitable. The house was unoccupied at the time of the fire, but two dogs died from what appeared to be smoke inhalation despite firefighters’ efforts to resuscitate them.

Assistant Fire Marshal Paul Lowenthal said the owner’s manual listed the scooter as an A3 Original Transboard. Investigators were waiting for more details from the family to learn where it was purchased and confirm what company manufactured the device and its make and model. The Fire Department notified the commission Wednesday morning about the fire.

Patty Davis, spokeswoman with the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Washington, D.C., said that the number of fire reports is “very concerning, which is why we’re investigating. We’re testing damaged boards and new boards in our lab.”

Commission researchers test products at the National Product Testing and Evaluation Center laboratory in Rockville, Md. The agency regulates consumer products, reporting directly to Congress and the President, and has the authority to establish safety rules and ban dangerous products.

Commission Chairman Elliot Kaye said in a statement Wednesday that the tests are focused “on the components of the lithium-ion battery packs as well as their interaction with the circuit boards inside the units.”

Kaye said the agency also is investigating the companies that make and sell hoverboards and released a list of the companies under investigation. Kaye said that online retail giant Amazon is offering a full refund for customers who bought hoverboards.

The usually two-wheeled scooters, which don’t actually hover but rather glide, are also called self-balancing scooters, balance boards and gyroboards, among other names.

They run with a lithium-ion battery, a small and powerful battery that some experts in the field have said can be dangerous when made with cheaper, poor-quality components.

Jay Whitacre, a professor of materials science and engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, told Wired Magazine that batteries with low-quality materials are more susceptible to damage and, when punctured, can heat up and ignite.

The commission in December issued a public notice about its investigation into a series of fires started by the hoverboards, also called smart boards. Investigators have collected damaged boards that have caught fire and are analyzing the devices and their risks.

The commission also has received a notable number of injury reports related to users crashing and falling while using the hoverboards, which the agency also is investigating.

Officials with cities, college campuses, malls and airlines around the country have banned and limited the use of hoverboards, both out of concern for liability should someone fall while using the scooter and because of the risk of fire.

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE YOU BUY A HOVERBOARD

The Santa Rosa Fire Department issued the following safety recommendations for hoverboards:

* Check with your retailer regarding the safety of the hoverboard you are purchasing.

* Buy a hoverboard with a warranty from a reputable source.

* Read and follow all manufacturer directions including recommended charging times.

* Do not leave the hoverboard unattended while charging.

* If you notice the hoverboard is hot, stop using it and contact the manufacturer or retailer. This could suggest a faulty battery that needs replacing.

* After the hoverboard has been used, give it time to cool prior to re-charging.

* Charge the hoverboard in a safe location that is away from combustible materials.

Riding a hoverboard is illegal in New York state and punishable with a fine.

A California law, AB 604, that went into effect Jan. 1 classified hoverboards as “electrically motorized boards,” which are allowed on sidewalks, bike paths and roads. Users must be 16 years old and wear helmets. Manufacturers must limit the speed capacity to 20 mph.

But a spate of complaints from UCLA students confronting gliding riders prompted campus police to prohibit their use on campus walkways and hallways.

In Tuesday’s Santa Rosa fire, charring patterns indicated to investigators that the fire started with the hoverboard on the floor, Lowenthal said. The char patterns surrounded the board, were low to the floor and appeared to move from there up into the structure.

“Once the fire started, it’s not going to stay on the ground; it wants to go up,” Lowenthal said, adding that the family is staying with relatives and friends.

Reports of hoverboards igniting in flames started appearing last year as the scooters gained in popularity.

A December video shows Los Angeles firefighters extinguishing flames after a hoverboard ignited as a man rode it down a Koreatown sidewalk, according to local news reports.

An Alabama couple is suing a company called Hoverboards Huntsville after they bought two of the scooters at a mall kiosk, and the boards in November set fire to and destroyed their home.

On Christmas Eve in Ukiah, a hoverboard began smoking while it was being charged. A woman then took it outside, where the scooter caught fire. A police officer extinguished the fire.

A Ukiah Valley Fire Authority investigator determined the hoverboard, which was equipped with a 42-volt charger and a 36-volt battery pack, was faulty and did not meet requirements for sale in the United States.

Santa Rosa firefighters are finalizing their investigation into Tuesday’s blaze with follow-up interviews, but the department’s analysis is otherwise nearly complete, having determined the general origin of the fire and that it was accidental, Lowenthal said.

Any additional analysis of the device and precisely how it caused the fire would be undertaken by the family’s insurance company, which will likely hire a private investigator, he said.

Lowenthal said the fire department is not taking a stance regarding whether hoverboards are dangerous and should be banned, but he said they are warning residents to be fully aware about how to safely use and charge them.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.