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.