Wheelchair battery blamed for fire that sent 2 elderly victims to hospital

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Fire investigators blamed the lithium-ion battery in an electric wheelchair for a fire that sent two elderly people to the hospital.

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The Ann Arbor Fire Department said in a news release that it was called to a structure fire at University Living at Ann Arbor just after midnight on Tuesday morning. Firefighters rescued two people described as elderly and mobility-impaired from the apartment where the fire started.

Both victims were taken to the hospital for smoke inhalation and elevated levels of carbon monoxide.

The fire department shared a photo from the residence where the fire started, showing a charred electric wheelchair. Chief Mike Kennedy said the fire was caused by a thermal-runway reaction of the chair’s lithium-ion battery.

“Very, very lucky,” Kennedy told WDIV. “This easily could’ve been a double fatal fire because they were both very close to where this was at.”

Kennedy said the department is prepared to handle fires involving lithium-ion batteries. The exploded and remaining cells of the battery were packaged in a material called CellBlock, which prevents any further reaction.

“The issue with these batteries is they can continue to heat up and run away for up to several days later,” Kennedy told WDIV. “Tomorrow, it can go off again. They’re finding that up to 48 hours later, these can still go off again.”

Fire investigators estimated that more than $200,000 in damage was caused by the fire.

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