The Loudoun County Fire and Rescue service reported it responded to two fires in Leesburg on Wednesday, Sept. 7, caused by a malfunctioning water heater and a cell phone battery being charged from the wrong charger.
Crews were dispatched at 9:15 a.m. for a mobile home on fire on South Street in Leesburg, in the Leesburg Mobile Home Park. Firefighters found all occupants had left the structure. They entered the home and extinguished the fire.
The Loudoun Fire Marshal’s Office determined the fire was caused by a malfunctioning bathtub water heater. Damages are estimated at $60,000 for the structure and $36,000 for contents. One occupant was displaced by the fire, and is now staying with a family friend.
Then at 12:16 p.m. crews were dispatched to a three-story apartment building on the 1100 block of Huntmaster Terrace, finding fire showing from a third-floor window on the rear. Firefighters entered the building and extinguished the fire, finding nobody had been home in the apartment where the fire started.
The Fire Marshal’s Office determined the accidental fire was caused by an electrical malfunction, from a cell phone being charged from an incompatible charger and cord. Damages are estimated at $250,000 in that apartment alone and $625,000 in total.
All the occupants from six apartments were displaced and are receiving aid from the Red Cross or staying with friends and family. One firefighter reported minor injuries.
The cell phone battery highlighted concerns Fire-Rescue System Chief Keith Johnson expressed the night before during a county Board of Supervisors meeting.
Tuesday night, Johnson told supervisors that lithium battery fires are on the rise both in Loudoun and nationwide, and that they have become a cause for alarm in the fire service. They are commonly used in consumer electronics ranging from cell phones and laptops to electric scooters and e-cigarettes. Loudoun Fire-Rescue estimated that as of that night, Loudoun had seen $11.8 million in damage due to lithium battery fires since May 2021—which was added to by the apartment building fire Wednesday.
“Often people will plug their e-bike, their e-scooter, their hoverboard, whatever device they are using . . . into the charging system of their home. They plug it in and forget about it,” Johnson said. “They leave it on the workbench, they leave it in the garage, they charge it in the bedroom of the home. You absolutely can’t do that; you have to monitor the battery.”
Johnson and the fire-rescue system urged people to take safety precautions around those batteries. Those include making sure cords are not damaged, only using the manufacturer-approved charger and cable, monitoring batteries while they charge, and never charging a device or battery under a pillow, on a bed or couch or near flammable materials. People are advised to stop using or charging a battery immediately if they notice an odor or noise coming from the battery, too much heat or a change in color in the battery or charging system, or if the battery leaks or changes shape. More fire prevention and safety information is available online at loudoun.gov/fireprevention or by calling Public Education Manager Lisa Braun at 571-258-3222.