Columns » Ranger Rich

Batteries can explode — really

Ranger Rich


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Don King heard the bang and whirled around in his chair. A car backfiring? Perhaps a 2-by-4 popping as his brand-new house settled into the ground behind the Chapel Hills Mall on the north side of our village? A Christmas light explosion outside the front door?

After five minutes of frantic searching, he yanked open the junk drawer in his kitchen. Flames roared out, a hellish yellow and blue fire that jumped nearly two feet into the air.

Here you’re probably asking the two obvious questions: Don King, the famous boxing promoter, lives in Colorado Springs? Did his ridiculous hair catch on fire?

Unfortunately, the answer to both questions is no.

It was a different Don King with regular hair whose kitchen junk drawer blew up a while back, the loud pop and ensuing fire apparently caused by an exploding lithium battery that he and his wife Mary had stored in a plastic sandwich bag, just like most of us do ­— a bag of batteries living peacefully among the pens and pencils, scissors and nail files, Super Glue and Scotch tape, spare house keys and paper clips and key chains and the photo of the kid when he was in the fourth grade and had big buck teeth and looked like a beaver wearing a golf shirt.

The battery in the Kings’ drawer was a flat, lithium-powered disc waiting for the call, for the day it would be summoned to perform a great and important task like powering a car door remote control so, God forbid, we don’t have to open the car door by turning the key in the lock the way Benjamin Franklin did when he invented the automobile in 1752.

(Historical note: Franklin was famous for misplacing his car keys. One day he tied them a kite so he’d know where they were and, well, I think we know the rest of that story.)

Anyway, at exactly 6:15 on this particular night, a battery blew up inside the Kings’ junk drawer. At least that’s what they believe. The evidence seems to support them. When the fire was out and the shouting had subsided, the Kings found the two halves of the lithium battery in the drawer. They had been blown apart and had black sooty burn marks on them. (The battery halves, I mean. The Kings were not blown apart. Both of them did, however, admit to using some pretty explosive language during the incident.)

“Other things in the drawer had burn marks, but nothing else exploded,” says Don, a retired safety inspector who moved to Colorado from Minnesota just last year. He and Mary launched an extensive probe into the case of the flaming junk drawer, an investigation that involved their insurance company, the battery manufacturer and local fire officials.

The conclusion: Moose, the Kings’ lovable 12-pound shih-tzu dog, doesn’t make a very good smoke detector. The dog hardly raised an eyebrow during the explosion and fire, a fact I mention to show that you can’t always count on a dog. Also, I like to write “shih-tzu” because it sounds like you’re saying “shit-zoo.”

Seriously, there has been no official conclusion because, amazingly enough, the battery manufacturer and the Kings’ insurance company handed the case to their lawyers, who, barring any unforeseen interruptions such as an ambulance going past their office, should be getting back in touch with the Kings sometime around the year 3000.

It’s not like we haven’t been warned about batteries. All battery packages contain cautionary notes such as: “May explode and cause burn injury.”

And we read that and we chuckle and go right back to tormenting the cat by touching his tail over and over again. But Don King has now separated all of his spare batteries and placed them carefully in a heavy metal, fireproof tool box in his garage. You can get like that after your kitchen drawer blows up.

“Everyone has so many batteries,” he said. “I would advise them to store them carefully. They do explode.”

And while we’re giving advice, I’d offer this: If the batteries explode and cause a fire in your Thetford-brand Model 465E Battery Flush Portable Camping Toilet, wait at least 45 minutes for the bowl to cool off before you sit down.


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