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Considering batteries as an ignition source in fire investigation

January 01 2017

Forensic Science Interpreting The Evidence

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Fire Investigation

The BBC reports that Samsung has concluded an investigation into last year's Galaxy Note7 overheating problems and has found that these were caused by faults in batteries from two different manufacturers.  Samsung recalled the phones in September 2016 and insisted the replacements were safe, but these too were soon reported to overheat.  Samsung’s website currently advises owners to switch off the Galaxy Note7 and to replace it as soon as possible.   

Overheating batteries have the potential to cause fires and have done so in many cases.  There have been a number of documented product recalls in the past for various battery-powered items from other manufacturers.  Samsung’s Note 7 provides another illustration that faulty batteries can be present even in genuine appliances from reputable companies. 

This serves as a timely reminder that batteries and battery-operated devices should always be taken into account as possible ignition sources when investigating the cause and origin of a fire.  Awareness of this issue is increasing with the growing number of products entering the market.  But there may be little or nothing left of a battery after a fire, and it could be an easy possibility to overlook amongst the piles of debris at a fire scene.

As always with fire investigation, detailed information is key to establishing, reliably, the cause of a fire.  This includes assessing the potential role of all items originally present at the scene of the fire.  Initial fire investigators are not always made aware of the full facts of a case at the time they undertake their investigation.  If you feel there are issues outstanding or unaddressed in an original fire investigation, please contact Keith Borer Consultants for a full review of the available evidence.


Jennefer Gray
BSc(Hons), MSc, TIFireE, MRSC

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