back to article Blazing laptop of death claims one

A laptop left running on a sofa started a fire which killed a 56-year-old Canadian man. The Coroner's Service of British Columbia has not released the victim's name but has revealed that he died six months ago. The machine was left on a couch, which caused the battery to overheat and the fire to start. The coroner did not give …


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  1. Anonymous Coward

    Bet Your Ass

    if it had been an Apple Laptop this would constitute a "spate" of murders by the evil corporation!

  2. Spleen
    Jobs Horns

    Place your bets

    "The coroner did not give out the brand of machine"

    Am I the first to put a tenner on Apple? Probably not.

  3. The Indomitable Gall

    Another solution...

    ...remove the battery.

    When I'm at home, I take the battery out an run off the mains. Charging and discharging kills battery life. Attempting to continue charging a full battery (which most laptops do) kills battery life. Charging a battery, and more importantly attempting to continue charging a full battery, generates a lot of heat. Even if this heat reaches the shut-off sensors for the processor, switching off the processor doesn't stop the source of the heat: the battery. In fact, by making more power available to the battery charger, a heat cut-out increases the risk of the battery overheating and setting itself alight.


    (I am not a chemist or an electrician.)

  4. northern monkey

    I'm happy to have amusing titles..

    ..but can we keep them to articles that haven't involved fatalities? It just seems a little insensitive, is all.

    Oh, that's unless it's the death of figures of fun such as Michael Jackson - then my hypocritical side comes out and I'll laugh.

  5. Anonymous Coward

    File under

    RoTM, innit??

  6. Steve Evans

    hasn't released the manufacturer...

    Well we all know what that means don't we... NDA...

  7. Estariel

    Lap Top?

    So the one thing you must not do with a Laptop.... to have it on top of your lap?

  8. Hi Wreck

    And the nameless laptop is:

    CTV's Canada AM blabbered out "Hewlett Packard". See

    The machine in question had been the subject of a recall. In the old days, one was cautioned about smoking in bed. I guess surfing in bed is the 21st century equivalent.

  9. Jason Bloomberg Silver badge

    Ye olde chip pan fire

    Sounds like the high-tech equivalent of the chip pan fire, and I'm surprised the coroner / fire commissioner didn't mention smoke detectors.

    What I want to know is why any equipment allows itself to reach such critical temperatures that it explodes, catches fire, or ignites soft furnishings and doesn't just shut down before then. There's got to be a product liability issue in this, even though the user made a mistake.

  10. Tony Smith (Written by Reg staff)

    Re: Ye olde chip pan fire

    Yus... in the same way no one but no one in the media or authority had the courage to say Princess Diana was partially responsible for her own death because she wasn't wearing a seatbelt.

  11. Sureo


    It is not unreasonable to expect the laptop designers to include one or two 2 cent temperature sensors to prevent this from happening. Or is it?

  12. Charlie Barnes

    Advent by any chance?

    If my other half's laptop is anything to go by, I'd put £100 on an Advent...

  13. Kev K

    RE:Re: Ye olde chip pan fire

    Need a popcorn icon.

    Totaly agree with you but you mentioned "The Peoples Princess" in a way that was not showering her with light and sweetness - I shall now sit back and watch you get roasted by Daily Express Readers, who will no doubt send you to Hull with a one way ticket.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    notebooks impossible to service

    When the notebook manufacturers are the only ones to offer servicing, the price is outrageous, and after 2 years even that option is gone, should we just wait for the inevitable fire?

    Notebooks are many things wonderful, but lack physical/material standards and non-warranty-voiding, competitive service options - even better, user instructions for self-servicing during and beyond the warranty period.

  15. Doug Glass

    @The Indomitable Gall You might want to read about batteries and their myths and truths.

    Of course charge/discharge cycles kill batteries (some faster than others) but that's what they are designed to do ... be used up. Walking wears your knee and ankle joints too ... do you plan on stopping walking? Nothing is permanent and in the case of batteries their replacement is intentionally made easier for that vary reason.

    You remind me of a friend who bought the soundtrack of a movie he loved but wouldn't listen to it because he was afraid he'd get to the point of not liking it.

  16. Marvin the Martian
    Dead Vulture

    I miss my clamshell iBook.

    I put it on a temporarily hard surface --- a bar of chocolate --- which it melted its way into.

    Four more years it gave off a chocolatey aroma when in heavy use; actually a good stimulant for heavy nights of typing.

    /"IT?" icon as the "IT!" one is missing.

  17. Anonymous Coward

    Always operate from a hard surface...

    does sitting with the laptop in my lap whilst in full IE8 pron mode constitute a hard surface?

  18. Anonymous Coward

    @ The Indomitable Gall

    any laptop I've had since my first in 2002 has automatically stopped charging the battery at 100% and only restarted charging when the battery drops below 95% of charge.

    Best way to keep Lion cells working is keep them partly charged (they dislike being fully charged or totally discharged)

    L-ion batts are inherently volatile due to what they are made out of.....i.e. Lithium

  19. Richard 12 Silver badge

    @The Indomitable Gall

    I can say with 100% certainty that every Lithium-Ion powered device (laptop, phone or otherwise) made by a real manufacturer does stop charging the battery when it is full.

    Even the majority of fakes do this.

    How do I know this? Because Li-Ion cells 'vent with flame' when significantly overcharged, almost every single time.

    So we'd see a fire every day if they didn't.

  20. SynnerCal

    Re: Another solution...

    "...remove the battery."

    The problem with that is the some laptops (I've had at least two) route mains power through the battery - so if the battery isn't there physically then the power adaptor does zip and the laptop remains dead.

    I've also had one machine (a Dell Latitude) that objected vehemently to me removing the battery (it failed) where the machine POST'd fine, but then gave me a BIOS error screen claiming that the battery 'had failed or was not present' with the sole option being pressing a key to shutdown.

    So, it's a nice idea to remove the battery when on mains, but isn't practical in all circumstances. Furthermore from watching the power light on my Dell D620 it would appear that this 'trickle charges' the battery when full. Checking the battery meter app on Ubuntu seems to bear this out.

    I'm still kind of confused as to why the _laptop_ caught fire, usually if they overheat they just shutdown. In which case my money would be on the cause being a battery short or something amiss with the surface that it was resting on.

    Any fire safety engineers out there in the Reg Land care to comment?

  21. Reality Dysfunction

    to anyone who has worked in a retail IT shop

    I notice that shops take the batteries out of always on display laptops is this to stop twats stealing them or to maintain battery life... just recommended someone buy one and really want to know :)

  22. Bilgepipe
    Gates Horns


    @Spleen: Any notebook will overheat when on a soft surface with it's vents blocked, smartarse.

    @Estariel: They aren't called Laptops any more, the manufacturers deliberately call them Notebooks because no, you're not supposed to put them on your lap. The Evil Apple Corporation of Doom that everyone likes to bleat about actually advises users NOT to put notebooks on their laps to avoid burning.

  23. It wasnt me

    @Indomitable Gall

    "(I am not a chemist or an electrician.)"

    Really ? Thanks for the clarification. Your comment did nothing to give that away.

    When I leave home I flip the main circuit breaker. You cant trust the switches on those televisors.

    And watch out for the overheating batteries on your smoke alarms. Best to take them out at night if you ask me.

    (I am a microelectronics designer and rocket scientist.)

  24. NogginTheNog
    Thumb Down

    Battery removal

    My alternative to this is running it on battery power (more convenient, if a little slower) until just about dead, and then plugging it in (repeat ad-infinitum). Not certain if this is the BEST method, but it's worked for me previously with things like my moby battery (2 years and counting and still going strong)!

    As to Lady Di (as I still like to think of her), well yes it has often occurred to me the mentality of someone sitting in the back of a bloddy great Merc driving through a city at night at 90+mph who doesn't think "oh shit, I think I'd really feel a lot happier belted up right now!" :-\

  25. Anonymous Coward

    As Yakov Smirnoff would say

    In Soviet Russia, Apple bakes You!

    *legal disclaimer: may not have been an apple. But Dells/HPs just don't make as good jokes. Except their computers...

  26. James Pickett (Jp)

    Battery Care

    "My alternative to this is running it on battery power (more convenient, if a little slower) until just about dead, and then plugging it in (repeat ad-infinitum). Not certain if this is the BEST method, but it's worked for me previously with things like my moby battery (2 years and counting and still going strong)!"

    Actually for Lithium, it isn't the best thing to do at all.

    Basically, use the battery as it will degrade over time anyway. Don't worry about recharge cycles, partial discharge/recharge actually strains the battery less and modern batteries have circuits to monitor and prevent overcharge/over drain.

    If you ever leave a battery for some time, charge it and stick in in the Fridge :-)

  27. alan 39

    Re Doug Glass

    Nothing is permanent and in the case of batteries their replacement is intentionally made easier for that vary reason.

    Yes in most things, some fruit based companies go the other way of intentionally making them hard to remove to gain extra buisness replacing them for you :)

  28. Jason DePriest

    Temp sensor optional?

    I have a cheap Averatech laptop. It has sensors to turn the fans on and off.

    When I dual-booted it with Linux, I discovered that Linux didn't talk to the fans properly. Therefore, the fans would not come on when the system got hot.

    It could still read from the sensors, just not trigger the fans.

    When the internal temp reported by ACPI hit about 190°F (88°C), it would power itself off immediately.

    That feature saves me from a fiery death and probably cost the manufacturer about 3¢ to include.

    Since the laptop in question was subject to a recall, I'm guessing HP also includes such trivial safety devices but that in this case, it was faulty.

  29. Paul Schofield

    @ Charlie Barnes re: Advent by any chance?

    Nope.... we dont get Advent here in the Great White North, even DSG hasnt managed to get their fingers in over here.

    Still undergoing therapy from repairing Advents 12 years ago....

    Beer..... cos well its that time aint it????

  30. Barry Rueger
    Paris Hilton


    "Walking wears your knee and ankle joints too ... do you plan on stopping walking?"

    Maybe IG is an American, in which case he probably already drives his SUV 150ft* to the gas station to buy his six pack of Bud.

    * feet cause the Yanks of course don't "get" that crazy metric stuff.

  31. J. Cook Silver badge

    re: notebooks impossible to service

    Not completely true- Dell has had their service manuals availible on their public site for quite some time now, and they are reasonably decent to service and dig stuff out of. (unlike a certain fruit based company which is Oh-so-clever with their design and requires four arms, two specialty tools, and a live chicken to dig the hard drive out of some of their older laptop designs.)

    Mines the one with the micro-torx drivers in the pocket.

  32. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns


    ...scale down the processor speed if you try to run them without their batteries. Or so I've heard.


    Was it Sony battery?

    Was it Sony battery?If you have a laptop its worth checking the battery and see if it is a Sony battery(usually manufactured in Japan) as it may be subject to a recall.

    I had a battery failure on a Dell Latitude D630 I purchased in 2007 and the battery was a Japanese Sony one.Someone told me to check the serial number on and guess what its part of a recall

  34. Rock Lobster
    Jobs Horns

    @Indomitable Gall

    You can't remove the battery of a Macbook.

  35. chr0m4t1c

    Read the story...

    @pretty well everyone above

    The story does not say that the laptop caught fire, it says the fire was started by the laptop being left running on the sofa.

    It's more likely that the localised heat from the improperly vented machine caused the sofa to spontaneously ignite - it may not have been made of flame-retardant materials or the heat build-up may have been sufficient to overcome them.

    So...taking the battery out would have made zero difference.

  36. chr0m4t1c

    @Read the story (me)

    I should have said read the /original/ story - doh!

  37. Anonymous Coward

    This seems unusual

    Like a few other people have commented, my experience with notebooks (I've currently got four in my house and have used a variety from mainstream manufacturers over the last 15 years) is that when they get hot, usually from lack of ventilation combined with running demanding applications (Far Cry really warms up my son's HP), they just shut down.

    Given the number of notebooks now in use in homes, you'd think that five incidents over five years (according to the article) is pretty low. Were these figures just for British Columbia or the whole of Canada?

    Still, this is very sad for the gentleman's relatives and friends; notebooks users should take note of the safety advice, especially parents of children who may be using these devices in bedrooms full of soft furnishings.

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