Storing 9v batteries in the 'Junk Drawer' can be a fire hazard

PORTLAND, Ore. -- Dave Miller changed out the 9-volt batteries in his home's smoke detectors and recycling them in a paper bag in the garage.

The irony is, those batteries that were keeping his home safe later burned his home to the ground.

Miller said he barely made it out alive.

In a video first posted online, Miller recounts how the battery fire destroyed his Fort Collins, home in April 2011. The video begins with the frantic audio recording of Miller's call to 911.

"I have a fire. I need the fire department here," Miller told a fire dispatcher.

"Inside your house?" the operator asked.

"Yes, inside my house," Miller said.

"Sir, hang up the phone and evacuate," the dispatcher directed.

It wasn't until later that Miller learned what happened.

"When I set a laundry basket on the shelf next to these, It bumped the bag," he explained in the online post. "The two batteries touched together and shorted the terminals and that's what burned down my house."

Fire experts say this can happen to anyone.

"That's why it's important to be vigilant," said Lt. Damon Simmons, Portland Fire and Rescue Spokesman.

Simmons continued, "The thing to know about 9-volt batteries is that the contacts - the things that you plug in - are very close together and so it's easy for them to get shorted and that means if a piece of metal touches both contacts at the same time - a piece of steel wool, a piece of aluminum foil - it can easily heat up and cause a fire."

In a safe and supervised environment, Simmons showed KATU just how easy flames form when two 9-volt batteries are tossed in a bag with other metal items -- similar to what you might find in a junk drawer.

In a matter of seconds, the bag was consumed by flames.

"9 volt batteries seem pretty harmless and if they are if they're stored the right way," Simmons said. "But if you store them incorrectly or use them incorrectly, they can start a fire."

It's simple to protect your house from a common but very real risk.

"Its important to store 9-volt batteries properly and that means to put (electrical) tape over the contacts if you're going to be storing them for a period of time," he said. "Store them upright or leave the caps on them. Most 9-volt batteries come with caps on them when you buy them from the store."

It is advice Miller wished he'd had before his home burned down.

"I should have known better. Everyone's been telling me it's not my fault. I understand that but on some level I feel very responsible," Miller said. "If it can save one person's life, then everything my family has gone through has been worth it," he said in the online post.


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