Popularized by entertainers and sports stars, the so-called hoverboard has turned into one of the hottest gifts of the holiday season — too hot for some.
In Jean Lafitte, in lower Jefferson Parish, one of the battery-powered gadgets — which do not actually hover but resemble Segways without handles — caught fire while it was being charged and nearly burned down a family’s house.
Some four hours away in Gulf Shores, Alabama, a board abruptly threw off its rider and burst into flames.
So far, there’s no reason to think that hoverboards are particularly prone to causing mayhem, and there have been no recalls. But a handful of episodes have lit up the Internet, and even federal regulators have taken an interest.
“We are looking at the entire product line,” said Scott Wolfson, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
He cautioned buyers against leaving hoverboards unattended while charging their batteries and asked anyone who has had a problem to report it on the agency’s website, saferproducts.gov.
The 20-plus reports that have come in so far primarily deal with injuries resulting from falls, Wolfson said. Much of the concern over hoverboards has centered on convincing people that they need to wear the same type of safety gear they would on a bike or a skateboard.
But the conversation has been shifting toward the apparent fire hazard following reports from the United Kingdom about poor-quality hoverboards, often from China, catching fire while being charged.
The cases from Jean Lafitte and Gulf Shores have drawn considerable attention on social media. In both instances, the hoverboards came from vendors on Amazon.com under the label, “Smart Balance Wheel,” although it remains unclear who actually manufactured the devices.
In a phone interview, Timothy Cade, of Alabama, said he rode the $370 hoverboard he bought from “GreeGear” for three days without incident. Then, on the day after Thanksgiving, he had made it about 100 feet from his home when the board’s wheels abruptly locked up. The device came to a complete halt, threw him off and caught fire, he said.
Cade, who used his phone to record part of the scene after the hoverboard ignited, said he doused the flames with buckets of water. But the blaze reignited more than once before he was able to put it out for good.
“I was in so much panic,” he said Tuesday. “I didn’t lose a leg or a hand, but if that had been in my house like the family (in Jean Lafitte) — man, I can only imagine.”
Not that he plans to quit using hoverboards. Cade said he is trying to get a refund and has already ordered a replacement, though from a different company.
“I’m just hoping it’s safer than the first one,” he said.
Jessica Horne, from Jean Lafitte, could not be reached Tuesday, but she has recalled her experience for TV reporters and on Facebook. She said she gave her 12-year-old son Hayden a hoverboard from “Fit Turbo” as a birthday present last month.
He used it for about a day and then plugged it in to charge it in his bedroom at the family’s home on Gloria Drive the evening of Nov. 21. The hoverboard charger soon became hot to the touch, and then it began smoking, said Deputy Chief Brant Thompson of the Louisiana Fire Marshal’s Office, which is investigating the incident. Both the hoverboard and the mattress where it had been resting were soon engulfed in flames, Thompson said.
The family managed to haul the mattress out of the house, but the fire quickly spread to the rest of the room. Firefighters arrived to find flames pouring out a corner of the home, said Lafitte Barataria Crown Point Fire Department Chief Linton Duet.
Firefighters extinguished the blaze and rescued a pet Chihuahua they heard whimpering amid the chaos. But the “smoke and heat damage” done by that point had “really messed up everything inside,” Duet said.
Horne wrote on Facebook that her family had lost all of its possessions, saying it was “one hell of a messed up feeling watching your belongings, all of your kids’ things go up in flames” so close to Christmas.
“Please ... pray for us,” wrote Horne, who established a webpage seeking donations for her family at gofundme.com/n7bnd7jw. “We need all we can get.”