A couple of years ago, a Facebook story circulated about a young man who died in a house fire caused by an overheated laptop computer. That story continues to circulate to this day. This poses two questions: Did that incident actually happen, and is it possible for laptops to cause a fire? The question of whether or not a laptop can cause a fire is a reasonable question to ask, especially for anyone who has used a laptop in bed and felt heat generated when the computer gets improper ventilation.
Let’s take a look at the rumor that continues to float around Facebook.
A couple lost their 25 year old son in a fire at home on June 4th. The son who had graduated with MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison two weeks earlier had come home for a while. He had lunch with his dad at home and decided to go back to clean up his hostel room. His father told him to wait, to meet his mother, before he went back for a few days. He decided to take a nap while waiting for his mom to come back home from work. Some time later their neighbors called 911 when they saw black smoke coming out of the house.
Unfortunately, the 25 years old died in the three year old house. It took several days of investigation to find out the cause of the fire. It was determined that the fire was caused by the laptop resting on the bed. When the laptop was on the bed cooling fan did not get the air to cool the computer and that is what caused the fire. He did not even wake up to get out of the bed because he died of breathing in carbon monoxide.
The reason I am writing this to all of you is that I have seen many of us using the laptop while in bed. Let us all decide and make it a practice not to do that. The risk is real. Let us make it a rule not to use the laptop on bed with blankets and pillows around. Please educate as many people as you can.
“Please pass to everyone you know, you might save one’s life”
Is the story true?
Maybe. One curious footnote is that since the story first appeared on Facebook, the name of the victim has disappeared from the article, perhaps to distance the rumor from the actual event. Originally, the article contained the name of an actual fire victim named Arun Gopalratnam, who did in fact perish due to a fire in 2010. It was never determined that a laptop was in fact the cause of the fire, but the possibility remained open.
Can laptops cause fires?
Yes. Though some commenters of these stories have claimed that it’s “impossible” for a laptop to catch fire, that is inaccurate. There was a 2006 recall of several brands of computers, that, as this article states: “Under the right circumstances, these batteries could overheat, potentially causing burns, an explosion or a fire.” Here is a 2007 story about a home that was destroyed due to a fire blamed on a Dell laptop.
What about modern laptops?
The risk is less, but still exists. Modern computers have better safeguards than older laptops, and will usually shut themselves off long before they heat up enough to cause any such problems. That’s not to say that they aren’t completely without risk. Consider this articlefrom May 2012, in which a laptop is suspected in a fatal fire in New Zealand. And in April 2012, “An Arizona State University building was evacuated today after a computer caught fire in a teacher assistant’s bag.” Here is yet another incident from 2012, this one in India, in which a “fire probably resulted from a short circuit in the laptop charger.”
There was also a recall in 2010-2011 on HP laptops from 2007-2008 because their batteries were considered fire hazards.
It’s not a common occurrence for laptops to catch fire, but on the other hand it’s always a good idea to make sure they have proper ventilation. Setting your laptop on a soft bed which blocks the airflow at the very least is bad for your computer. While the story floating around on Facebook may not be 100% accurate, it’s probably best to heed the warning included.
Filed under: Hoaxes & Rumors