A battery in an electronic cigarette exploded Thursday at 1300 Stone St., setting paperwork on a desk ablaze, Great Bend Firefighter Brad Dresher said.
The fire started in the AT&T building that also houses Barton County Communications. County Administrator Richard Boeckman said the 911 service center leases space in the building, but the fire was in an AT&T office in the northeast corner of the building, not in a county office. Boeckman said Communications Director Doug Hubbard briefed him after the fire. It was his understanding that the e-cigarette blew up as an AT&T employee was charging the battery.
There was no need to call 911; when the man wasn’t able to put the fire out on his own, he walked to the Communications office, and staff dispatched a fire truck at 3:59 p.m. However, Drescher said the fire was out when firefighters arrived.
Records show the fire victim may have received a chemical burn, but he did not require an ambulance. He was transported by private vehicle to seek treatment.
The brand of electronic cigarette involved was not known. There are many brands of “e-cigs,” and sales in the United States last year were reportedly between $300 million and $500 million, double the previous year. Sales may double again in 2013. E-cigarettes resemble normal cigarettes but use a battery to heat liquid nicotine and flavoring, which vaporizes as it is inhaled. There is no fire or ash.
This isn’t the first case of electronic cigarettes exploding. Last year, there were reports of people injured by exploding e-cigarettes in Florida and Muskogee, Okla. But some makers of the products have questioned whether the exploding devices had been modified in some way. A website for Premium vapes e-cigarettes notes that hundreds of people die each year in fires started by traditional cigarettes; manufacturers also note that e-cigs don’t produce second-hand smoke and are helping many people give up smoking.
The Food and Drug Administration does not regulate e-cigarettes, but rising sales could change that. They are not sold to minors.
And they aren’t allowed in county offices, including the Communications office, Boeckman said. “We do not allow any kind of smoking, and have not for many years.”