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Tampa man's laptop battery catches on fire

It was a frightening experience for a Tampa man when the battery inside his laptop computer caught on fire. He says it could have very well burned his house down had he not been right beside it.

Gil Sanderford is okay. He can't say the same for his MacBook or his dining room table.

"I didn't know what to think. I'd never seen anything like that in my life," Sanderford said.

He said he was sitting at his dining room table, working beside his 2007 MacBook.

"We bought a replacement battery because the old battery had gone through its useful life," Sanderford said.

It was a Rayovac brand from Batteries Plus. The battery had worked fine for a year, up until until this point.

"It was closed, charged, and I heard a hissing sound and sparks started flying out from underneath the computer on our dining table and then this white thick electrical smoke started pouring out of it," Sanderford recalled. "All I knew to do was grab it and try to get the door unlocked and get it outside as fast as possible."

With blisters and melted plastic on his hand, Sanderford watched his laptop shut down permanently from the battery's scorching heat.

"Everything's just... fried," he said.

Sanderford took the remains to I-Hospital, a Tampa Apple product repair company, which was able to recover the hard drive.

"I've never seen anything like this," said I-Hospital technician Tom Goldscheck.

Goldscheck warns customers to always use brand name replacement batteries. He said cheaper after market options may be tempting but they can lack crucial overcharge protection.

"The battery continues to get hotter and hotter and it doesn't stop. Unfortunately, this is what happens," Goldscheck said. "A lithium ion battery can literally explode at any point in time and you are causing your phone or computer to be a ticking time bomb."

Though these cases are rare, we've seen the aftermath of lithium ion battery failures in our area. Last month, a Kathleen High School student's $6 portable charger caught on fire on his bed stand while he was sleeping. And, a St. Pete man, unaware of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 recall, lost his phone and car when the charging battery went up in flames.

"If we had been asleep, I know my house would have caught on fire," Sanderford said. "Hopefully, they would recall this type of battery because if this happened to me, hopefully it wouldn't happen to someone else."

Batteries Plus is working with Sanderford, who hopes to have his laptop replaced and table repaired. The company has asked him to send his laptop to them.

We contacted Batteries Plus as well as Rayovac for response to the issue. Their statements are below.

"Batteries Plus Bulbs always puts the safety of its customers first and adheres to the rigorous safety standards and regulatory requirements set by the industry. We take this matter very seriously and are in direct contact with the customer. However, without having access to the home, the affected MacBook, the charger and the battery, we have no way to further assess or comment on the specifics of this incident."

Cathleen Stewart
VP Marketing, Batteries Plus

"The laptop battery in question was not manufactured and sold by Rayovac and was instead sold by our licensee. We take the quality of those batteries bearing our name seriously and we have been assured by our licensee that they are quickly addressing this issue."

Colleen Orani, Senior Director of Rayovac Marketing