7 On Your Side Follow Up: Risk of battery-caused fires

In a recent 7 On Your Side report, we looked at the potential danger of used batteries starting a fire. We thought it was a great report on a safety concern that is rarely pointed out, but not all of you agreed. So we're following up with an update on this story.

I was stopped on the street, we received plenty of emails and social media posts. Everyone agreed it was a potential problem, but many took me to task for making too big of a deal out of it. However, that wasn't the case for one guy.

Lyal Holmberg of San Jose has a photo album of a life-changing event.

"I saw your story the other day about you shouldn't throw batteries in a drawer because it is possible that they could overheat and cause a fire," Holmberg said.

Exactly. I pointed out that leaving batteries in a drawer while waiting for recycling can be dangerous.

Bill Perin from the Batteries Plus Bulbs store in San Rafael said, "All batteries have a positive and a negative terminal and if you bridge across the positive to the negative terminal you will generate a flow of electricity."

Perin first pointed out this danger to me after he clicked two batteries together. He said it was possible that batteries could get jammed together in a drawer and will keep getting hotter and hotter.

San Rafael Fire Department environmental management coordinator Courtney Bell says batteries burst into flames. Not often, but it happens.

"It is unusual for batteries to cause fires, but it definitely is a possibility and we want people to know that storing them properly is easy and it is easy to prevent a fire," Bell said.

And that brings us back to Holmberg and his photo album. His home burned to the ground when batteries were tossed in a trash can by his then-teenaged kids.

"No one can believe me. They say, 'Well, how can discarded batteries do it?' and I say, 'Well, if you put two batteries together even though they aren't working in a flashlight any longer, they still can overheat and cause the damage,'" Holmberg said.

So, is this likely to occur at your home? No. But it can happen.

So how do you protect yourself? You can put the batteries back in their original packaging if it's available. If not, protect your depleted batteries using common household tape.

Perin explained for us how you can do that. He said, "Just pull off a piece of tape and you just put the tape across the top terminals and then do the same with the bottom terminals." He also recommends wrapping the batteries twice.
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