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Vape Pen Battery Blamed For DIA Fire

By Brian Maass

DENVER (CBS4)- A lithium ion battery used to power a vape pen is being blamed for a fire last month at a security checkpoint at Denver International Airport.

"Situations like the fire we experienced at DEN on Jan. 30 are very unique," said Denver Fire Chief Eric Tade in a news release.

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(credit: CBS)

The cause of the brief fire was a mystery until Friday when the Denver Fire Department and federal and airport authorities revealed what happened at the south TSA checkpoint. They said a passenger had disassembled an electronic vaping device for travel and placed it in his carry-on bag.

But the exposed lithium ion battery "likely made contact with conductive materials in the bag, causing the battery to create a 'dead short.' The short caused the battery to heat up combustible materials within the bag, leading to a fire just as the bag passed through a TSA X-ray machine."

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TSA employees used a fire extinguisher to douse the flames within sixty seconds. Passengers at the security checkpoint fled as the fire burned. Nobody was hurt.

The FAA prohibits electronic cigarettes, vaping devices and lithium ion batteries from being placed in checked bags, but they are allowed in carry-on bags.

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Denver Fire Captain Greg Pixley said lithium ion batteries are generally safe, unless they malfunction.

"Lithium battery issues are uncommon," said Pixley.

CBS News reported that in 2015, there were issues with lithium ion batteries on passenger planes eleven times.

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Last November at the Orlando airport, a lithium battery that was powering a camera caught fire at a security checkpoint causing an airport shutdown.

The FAA requires lithium ion batteries and vape pens and e-cigarettes be transported in carry-on bags, and not in checked luggage.

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Denver Fire Dept. Captain Greg Pixley (credit: CBS)

In this case, the DIA passenger did everything right according to investigators, but something went wrong inside of his carry on.

Still, Pixley points out that it was fortuitous that this incident happened at a TSA checkpoint, and not 30,000 feet in the air.

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"Something on an aircraft in an overhead bag storage area might be catastrophic. We're lucky that didn't happen here."

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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