Well, I guess when you set the house on fire... - RC Groups
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Aug 12, 2010, 05:54 AM
Oh no, not again!
jhspring's Avatar

Well, I guess when you set the house on fire...

it's time to consider a new hobby. Maybe knitting? Seriously, I am still rather in shock which is why I am sitting at my computer at 4 AM. To say that my wife is upset is like saying that Katrina was a bit of a storm. I have had to promise never to charge lipos anywhere near the house again which, while understandable, is somewhat problematic.

The weather gods have been kind last two weeks and I am still on flex time, so I have been going to the parking lot and flying for an hour every morning before work. In the evening I charge batteries, do repairs, get ready for the next outing. Tonight I got home, unloaded the car, started to charge batteries. I have (or had) a small stand alone table in the shop that serves as my charging station. Computer power supply and two balance chargers, a GT Power and a Turnigy. I set up two batteries and get them charging and then I wander back and forth between the shop and the house, which are connected. I leave the shop door open so I can hear the charger warble when it is done.

Last night I had charged one pair and had another on the go. My wife had closed one of the doors to keep the dogs out but it was about time for the charge to be finished. As I opened the shop door, there was a lot of smoke. Quickly closed the door to keep the smoke out of the house, and when I looked around the corner at my charing station, there were 3 or 4 small fires blazing away. Kill the power, one fire goes out. Open the outside door to get rid of the smoke. One of the fires is my flight/battery log. Grab the cover, throw it into the grass. I see that one of the floor fires is the nylon strap to the battery bag. Unclip that, throw it out. The bigger fire on the wooden floor I realize is a cotton bag with the uncharged lipos in it. I am in bare feet and hands, takes me a few seconds to realize that I can use my soldering pad as a dustpan and use the broom to pick up the burning mess and get it outside. Nylon broom starts to melt and burn too, but that's minor. Kill the a/c, open windows, get a big fan to start moving smoke. Then a lot of cleanup, including my wife. All in all, I was very lucky, and what might have happened had I not walked in when I did gives me the willies.

I did make a couple of bone-headed moves. At the field I have a cotton carry bag that I hang from the outside mirror. All the discharged batteries go there, so if there is a problem it's outside the car. When I am satisfied that all is cool to the touch the cotton bag goes inside the main battery bag, so they don't get mixed up. I normally put the discharged batteries off to one side, for some reason last night I set them under the charging table. I also normally keep my log on a separate bench, but for some reason set it on the charging table too. Both those moves escalated the situation.

What is eating at me is that I have no idea what went wrong. I'm not a dummy and I experienced a very bad lipo fire some years ago that cost me some scars and scared me silly. Since then I don't take chances. If a battery looks puffy, I toss it. If it gets bent or otherwise damaged in a crash, I toss it. Always balance charge, never more than 1C. Never charge in the plane.

The battery that burned was a Flitemax 4000. It's maybe 3 months old, has less than a dozen cycles on it. Always balance charged, always at 1C. At the start of the charge it was 11.3V, so not over-discharged. Physically it appeared fine, not puffy, not distorted, never in a crash. Charging procedure is to hook up the balance and power leads, check that the amps match the battery. The charger then checks to confirm that it sees the same number of cells that you are asking it to charge. I also can't figure how the fire got to the floor. I guess when the battery burned it distorted and rolled off the table? All the leads were burned through.

Going to Lowe's tomorrow to buy a charcoal grill to convert to a charging station. From here on out, my batteries will be charged outdoors in a fireproof container. Inconvenient, but far preferred to tonight's episode.

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Aug 12, 2010, 06:37 AM
Registered User
Manu Simon's Avatar
Damn... a very close call...

Which charger was operating the flitemax 4000 mah ?
Aug 12, 2010, 06:53 AM
Surface, Air & Water Rc Toys..
freechip's Avatar
In your charger manual and on most lipos or lipo packaging there is a WARNING label that say NEVER CHARGE UNATTENDED & CHARGE ON FIRE PROOF SURFACE OR CONCRETE FLOOR.

Sorry to hear stuff like this happen BUT 99.9% of it is avoidable if only users would fallow safety recommendations and care. I often charge unattended for couple of minute or so and maybe the odd complet charge cycle of the pack but if something was to fail sure I would have smoke but I would just have a little or big BLACK spot on my tile floor.

I think the storm that is going to follow from the wife is going to be much worst and I may not survive that one.
Last edited by freechip; Aug 12, 2010 at 07:02 AM.
Aug 12, 2010, 07:40 AM
Oh no, not again!
jhspring's Avatar
Simon, it was the GT Power. I don't know if it failed or not, there was some fire damage and the balance leads were destroyed. I tossed it.

Chip, you are correct. My house and shop are perched on 8 foot stilts which kind of precludes concrete floors and I have gotten a little complacent about not checking the charge every 5 minutes, and some of the secondary damage is totally on me. The thing is, there is no reason that I can see that the battery/charge should have failed in the first place. That's what's bugging me.

Aug 12, 2010, 07:53 AM
EB-66C Team Member
J Morgan's Avatar
Damn Jeff,
That WAS a close call! Glad to hear that the only damage is some lipos and your reputation with the wife. You can buy new lipos and I know from experience that she will eventually forgive you( expensive gifts help too!). Just goes to show you when everything seems to be going great, life can reach right up and grab you in an unsuspecting place.
Glad you and yours are alright.

Aug 12, 2010, 08:19 AM
Wisdom can not be granted.
Orion Pax's Avatar
I am glad you are OK and the fires were not disastrous to the house. I hope that you solve what happened with the charger. The idea about the BBQ grill is a good idea. This way it will be totally contained even if it is still in the shop. I hope your wife will be understanding that this is not an ordinary situation and takes your attention to detail into consideration when it comes to charging batteries. You need them in a safe place where you can monitor them and outside in the heat is not a good idea with our heat indexes.
Again, I am glad to hear you and your wife are OK. Keep us in the loop if you find out why this happened.

Aug 12, 2010, 08:50 AM
Way to many airplanes!
Not my idea (stolen from somebody else), but buying a cheap 9Volt smoke detector just for the charging station is a good idea too. I remove the battery from mine between charge, so it should last forever (I already have 2 smoke detectors in the house, with electricity and battery back up). Make a small rack so the extra smoke detector sit just a feet or two above the lipo bag should give you a very early warning.

I stay around when I charge, but it's amazing the number of time you have to leave the room when you don't want too, for any other reasons. So the smoke detector is only my backup in case I have to leave the room for a few minutes.

Glad you're ok, and thanks for the story. It's always good to have reminders every now and then that Lipos are dangerous, and getting used to them doesn't make them any safer.
Aug 12, 2010, 10:16 AM
Registered User
Wow, now that is a scare and a close call. I'm glad it wasn't worst; you're extremely lucky.
Regarding the upset wife; you are on your own.

3 years ago, I lost my house to a fire (not battery related nor to any action by me or my family) and it is not something I would wish anyone to go through.
The scary thing is, I have always had a healthy fear of lithium poly batteries, but I have had alot of fellow electric fliers assure me that with the new and current technology, they are pretty much fool proof and safe. I have crashed them, puffed them, and punctured them, but fortunately, no fires, so, this along with other people's assurances, had re-enforced a misperception about these batteries. I realized now I have become complacent with them.
This story is a definite wake up call for me and I for one really appreciate your post. Thanks Jeff!
It's time to get those bad habits under control and to get back to proper charging and storing requirements for lipos.

Aug 12, 2010, 10:22 AM
Registered User
this hobby needs a new solution to power these planes , lipos are dangerous , no excuses
Aug 12, 2010, 10:37 AM
Registered User
Jeff, Glad you and the wife are ok. That is a real eye-opener and a heads up for the rest of us! I am certainly going to change the way I charge/store/handle batteries, and I like the extra smoke detector idea. Take care of yourself (and good luck with the wife!) Steve
Aug 12, 2010, 10:49 AM
Kamikaze Ace
Glacier Girl's Avatar
Jeff, glad to hear your loss was so minor vs what it could have been.

A cheap ceramic container is what I use. Found it at a thrift store. Looks like it may have been part of a set for holding flour or sugar. Say less then a gallon size. Pack goes into the container, lid goes on top. I notched the lid to fit the charge lead through.

I like ceramic vs say an ammo box, as the metal box will transfer heat a lot faster if a pack lets go, and could damage what ever it's sitting on.

p.s. and I left the stain on the garage ceiling from when I had a tiny 1500 pack let go.
It reminds me every time I think about not paying attention to the charging. I know how much of a mess that made, so I can only imagine what you got.
Aug 12, 2010, 10:50 AM
Pro Hoarder
turbonut's Avatar
Thanks for the reminder Jeff! its good to post this info just to remind all of use to stay on top of our hobby...
Aug 12, 2010, 11:05 AM
Checking CG is for NERDS!
Smokescreen38's Avatar
Whoa...very scary, Jeff!!

It could happen to any of us.

I don't know about the rest of you guys but after a few years of trouble free lipo charging, I think a false sense of security has set in...this was definitely a wake up call.

I'm glad that you, your wife, the dogs and the rest of your house are okay.

Be safe, everybody!!
Aug 12, 2010, 11:13 AM
Oh no, not again!
jhspring's Avatar
Thanks for the good wishes, guys. I was extremely lucky. You're right, John, I can feel a sudden urge to buy jewelry coming on. Jason, I think charging is going to be an outdoor activity from here on out, regardless of the Louisiana wx. I tell myself it's no different to charging at the field.

Minor update. Hit Lowe's this morning, got an inexpensive charcoal grill with a locking lid. I plan to just set my whole charging station in it and since it is on legs and will be outside, any fires should be contained. That's the current theory.

I also bought two of the battery smoke alarms, one for each room in the shop. When I think about it, I should have had them in place from the get go, just b/c it's a workshop, so thanks Gambler.

I guess the spooky bit is that I didn't do anything differently last night than I did every night last week and this. I feel like Steve McQueen in the Sand Pebbles, "What the hell happened?"

Aug 12, 2010, 12:03 PM
Surface, Air & Water Rc Toys..
freechip's Avatar
Originally Posted by jhspring
Chip, you are correct. The thing is, there is no reason that I can see that the battery/charge should have failed in the first place. That's what's bugging me. Jeff
Yes I can see how this would be bugging to me also, unfortunately there electronic components that can and will fail at one point in time, I guess it was its time.

This is another good example why you should never charge the lipo inside the model.

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