For the second time in the past few weeks, a so-called hoverboard has burst into flames in a Louisiana home, this time dealing significant damage to the living room of a family’s home in Prairieville.
Among the hottest gadgets on holiday gift lists, the battery powered scooters — which don’t actually hover but glide on wheels — have been grabbing headlines for all the wrong reasons, as a rash of imported hoverboards have exploded and burst into flames.
Eric Hardnett said his 20-year-old son’s hoverboard exploded in the wee hours of Saturday morning while it was plugged into an outlet to charge overnight, setting off a fire that scorched walls, ruined a couch and destroyed a television. Hardnett said he wasn’t home at the time but both his wife and his younger 18-year-old son were asleep in their bedrooms.
“Nobody was in the room when it blew up,” said Hardnett, adding that workmen were still tallying up the total cost of the damage.
By the time Prairieville firefighters arrived at the home, the Hardnetts had managed to put out the fire by smothering it in wet towels, said Prairieville Deputy Fire Chief Ray Poche.
The explosion comes just weeks after another charging hoverboard in the lower Jefferson Parish town of Jean Lafitte overheated, caught fire and nearly burned down a family’s home on Nov. 21.
Highly publicized incidents across the country have focused scrutiny on the popular self-balancing scooters, which function much like Segways without handles. Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, said his agency is investigating the fire in Jean Lafitte and is looking into hoverboard incidents in Texas, Alabama, Ohio and California.
“It’s still a rare incident but we’re collecting reports all over the country,” Wolfson said. “We are concerned about the safety of consumers while the product is in the charging stage. It could be a very serious issue if one is sleeping while they are charging the product.”
With the so-called hoverboards topping Christmas lists and being ridden by everyone from NBA stars arriving at arenas to LSU students cruising around campus, Wolfson said the federal agency is making a point of investigating every reported hoverboard fire or explosion.
“Considering the popularity of the product line and the frequency that we are receiving reports of incidents, this has become a priority investigation for the agency,” he said.
Wolfson asks anyone who has had a problem with a hoverboard to report it on the agency’s website, saferproducts.gov.
The Prairieville and Jean Lafitte hoverboards were both manufactured overseas and purchased online, said Louisiana Fire Marshal Butch Browning, and neither hoverboard appears to have been tested by an independent product safety group.
Browning said his office issued statements last week — days before the Prairieville explosion — warning Louisiana residents about potentially unsafe low-quality hoverboards and urging consumers to research the devices before making a purchase.
The explosion, Browning said, “validated the recommendations we sent out. If you buy something, you just need to make sure it’s tested by a reputable lab.”
Not all hoverboards pose a safety risk, said Browning. Low-quality imports appear to be at fault in most of incidents, he said, and taking precautions like charging hoverboard batteries for no more than two or three hours should help avoid possible hazards.
Wolfson said it’s too early to say what exactly is causing a handful of hoverboards to catch fire, and no product recalls have been issued. Nonetheless, Wolfson said he’d like to see manufacturers work together to develop safety standards for hoverboards — something he said happened for cellphones and laptops after a rash of fires about a decade ago.
“We are now talking about a new product line that does not have a safety standard in place,” Wolfson said.
A hoverboard rider from Alabama who was thrown from his scooter before it burst into flames told The Advocate last week he’d already ordered a replacement hoverboard and planned to keep riding.
Hardnett, though, said he’s got no interest in messing with hoverboards again. A second hoverboard, belonging to his younger son, now sits in the backyard, where, Hardnett says, he plans to leave it.
“I don’t want to throw it in the garbage now,” Hardnett said. “I don’t want to put it in the trash and have it blow on the garbage man.”