Tragic Death in Harrisburg, PA, Marks the First Fatality Linked to Hoverboard Fires

According to a PennLive report, a major fire on the 2500 block of Lexington Avenue in Harrisburg, PA, resulted in the death of a four-year old girl named Ashanti Hughes who fell while fleeing the scene. Her two sisters were in critical condition as they were sent from the burning building to Lehigh Valley Health Network’s Regional Burn Center. And while driving to the fire station, Fire Lt. Dennis DeVoe died in a fatal car accident caused by the negligence of 18-year old Allison Hill who was intoxicated while driving. Why did this mayhem occur? In the words of Charles Dominick, brother of the three girls’ father, “it’s all because of a hoverboard–just a hoverboard.”

According to Fire Chief Brian Enterline, the specific cause of the fire was a hoverboard plugged into an outlet in the first-floor apartment. The Chief reported that “[residents of the apartment] heard some sizzling and crackling in the hoverboard and, shortly thereafter, it exploded in flames.” In a statement to the press, Chief Enterline said, “We would ask if you are using these things and they are knock-off brands, please not use them.” He continued, “We’ve seen too many fires and too many fire fatalities as a result of these hoverboards.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found this to be the first fatality linked to a hoverboard explosion. The CPSC has investigated over 60 hoverboard-related explosions since 2015 and found that the total property damage amounts to $2 million.

The Scope of the Issue

This wasn’t the first time a hoverboard caused such a devastating blaze. Similar fires have been reported resulting in a Federal Probe, several lawsuits and the banning of hoverboards on college campuses around the country. Some companies such as Amazon and Toys ‘R Us no longer carry the product and several airlines, including American, Alaska, Delta and Hawaiian, have banned the product from their flights. Additionally, the Postal Service has stopped shipping the product altogether, and in the UK, it is illegal to ride a hoverboard on public roads or walkways.

According to Jay Whitacre, a Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, “[t]hese things have more lithium-ion batteries in them than most things because they’re used to move you around.” Whitacre added, “It takes more batteries to get you the power energy to do that and as such there’s just more energy in a small space and so if something does go wrong, it’s a bit more catastrophic.” These same batteries have been linked to fires caused by Samsung’s Note 7 phone, which was released last year.

According to the PennLive report, the CPSC found that none of these products met its safety standards. In 2016, they recalled 500,000 hoverboards.

The Course of Action

Officials have attempted to reduce the number of fires by advising consumers to not overcharge the product and to only use the charger that comes in the box. According to CNET, these warnings don’t amount to much. Overcharging a product is not something people will think about on a regular basis and the charger that comes with the product is hyper specific, making it improbable that people would try to use a different type of charger.

So what is to be done? As Wolfson put it, “It’s a product without a safety standard.” So one alternative, he suggested, is to have companies “come together, create a voluntary organization and set a safety standard.” In the wake of Hughes’ tragic death, one hopes that changes are made sooner rather than later.