By their design, 9-volt batteries have both terminals in a snap connector on top, close together.
Tracy Fire Department Engineer Dele Peterson explained that the design makes it easy for bits of metal to create a bridge between the posts of spare 9-volt batteries and cause a charge that then creates heat.
“That bridge could be loose change, wires, a metal can and even other batteries,” Peterson said. “Many people store a bunch of batteries together in a junk drawer either inside their house or the garage. Some toss the used batteries in the garbage. Even if you think the battery is dead, it could still pose a fire hazard.”
Peterson recommends keeping batteries in their original packages until they are used or sorting them in a battery-specific storage container that’s designed to keep the batteries upright and apart from each other. Before discarding used batteries, residents should cover the tops completely with a piece of black electrical tape. The city of Tracy offers a free recycling program for household batteries — but not car batteries — at every local fire station.
Batteries aren’t the only unapparent danger to consider.
“There are several slow and sneaky causes of fire that some people may not be aware of,” Peterson said. “I know of a fire that started with the bathroom ceiling fan being left on while the family was away. The house was a total, complete loss.”
Bathroom fans tend to have small motors that could labor or wear out either over time or during prolonged use. Lint and dust can build up around the fan blades, providing a combustible fuel source.
“We go on these calls regularly,” Division Chief Andy Kellogg said. “During the month of December alone, I responded to four different fires in the home as a result of a bathroom ceiling fan issue.”
Another potential fire hazard involves laptops and other electrical devices resting on furniture, or other flammable materials, while they are plugged in.
“Anything plugged in is drawing a charge,” Peterson said. “If left plugged in and on furniture, over time, it could catch on fire. Make sure you don’t just unplug your device and leave the plugged-in charger on the furniture.”
Winter can harbor another hidden hazard: hot ashes collected from the fireplace. Some people dump ashes into plastic trash bins, but residual heat in the ashes can be enough to melt the plastic and ignite a fire, according to Peterson. A metal container is a safer place to store ashes.
“I’ve personally been on three fires in the last year where the tote was melted to the ground, and in one case the garage had caught on fire,” Peterson said. “It’s recommended not to store warm or hot ashes. Let them sit for several days before disposing of them.”
Flammable liquids stored around the house can also create a fire danger. Equally dangerous are used rags soiled with oil or gasoline that are left in a pile.
“The rags will auto-ignite over time,” Peterson explained. “Gases mix with air, and it’s a chemical process that releases the heat. It’s important that you keep all combustible liquids in a self-closing container. Common ones you might have around the house are paint thinners, gas, barbecue lighter fluid and even propane. Store your rags in an airtight container — not plastic.”
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