Pennsylvania girl first US death from hoverboard fire

Posted at 2:07 PM, Mar 14, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-14 14:07:59-04

A 3-year-old girl died over the weekend in a fire ignited by a recharging self-balancing scooter in her Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, home. Her death is believed to be the first in the nation to result from a blaze caused by the battery operated toy, some of which have previously been recalled due to their potential fire hazard.

The blaze, which began before 8 p.m. Friday, sent six people to the hospital.

Ashanti Hughes died in Lehigh Valley Hospital-Cedar Crest’s burn unit Saturday morning, said a spokesman for Lehigh County Coroner’s Office and Forensic Center. The girl’s father and a teenage boy were both treated for smoke inhalation and released shortly thereafter, and two other girls who had been in the house remain in critical condition.

Ashanti’s is the first death linked to a fire from a self-balancing scooter, commonly called hoverboards, in the United States, said Scott Wolfson, communications director for the US Consumer Product Safety Commission. The agency recalled 10 different brands of the toy in July after nearly 100 reports of burns and property damage caused by fires resulting from overheating batteries.

“We do not know whether the tragic incident in Harrisburg involved a recalled hoverboard or not,” said Wolfson, who noted that the commission has begun an investigation to learn this and other key answers.

Harrisburg Bureau of Fire Lt. Dennis Devoe was killed in a traffic accident on his way to the fire.

Fire Chief Brian Enterline told the fire was ruled accidental and the source was a rechargeable hoverboard plugged into a first-floor outlet. The family said they heard sizzling and crackling before the hoverboard exploded, Enterline reported.

Wolfson said hoverboards became “quite popular” in fall 2015, and the Safety Commission started receiving fire incident reports about the product around that time. The flow of reports gradually began to pick up, and so the commission decided to launch a full-blown investigation into every occurrence, he said.

“We have conducted more than 60 fire investigations across the country,” Wolfson said. The majority occurred between fall 2015 and winter 2016. According to the commission, the lithium-ion battery packs inside the hoverboard can overheat, posing a risk of smoke, fire and/or explosion.

On February 9, 2016, for example, the Nashville Fire Department reported that a hoverboard was the source of a fire that burned down a family’s million-dollar home, according to CNN affiliate WZTV. “The fact that a toy caused this kind of destruction to our lives is just wrong,” said Megan Fox, owner of the house and mother of four who escaped the house-destroying blaze.

Since the July recall of more than 500,000 hoverboards, the commission has not seen a sustained number of fire reports, said Wolfson, making Harrisburg a “dramatic and deeply concerning incident.”

“It is not too late to take advantage of the recall,” Wolfson said, adding that some companies are offering refunds while others are offering a free replacement battery, which has been reviewed by the safety commission and deemed safe.

Consumers with questions about these toys can visit the safety commission’s website, type in the name of their product and see what remedy is available to them, he said.

Consumers can also buy a hoverboard that follows Underwriters Laboratory’s safety standard, known as UL2272.

“We believe in the quality standard they created,” Wolfson said, adding that numerous companies offer products that comply with that standard, which was issued in November.

Finally, Wolfson offers three simple safety tips that apply to all hoverboards, including those in compliance with UL2272.

Do not charge them overnight. Do not charge them in an unmonitored location. And always have a fire extinguisher nearby.