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Bucks County Woman Injured When Laptop Computer Explodes

By Brad Segall and Elizabeth Hur

MIDDLETOWN TOWNSHIP, Pa. (CBS) -- Fire officials in Bucks County are investigating what caused a laptop computer to explode, injuring the woman who was using it inside her Langhorne Manor home.

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"It blew up. It flipped my computer back and the battery pack and all came out this way," Loretta Luff recalled, "The next thing I knew, my shirt was on fire, I grabbed that and took that off and I think that's when I singed my hair."

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Even with her singed hair, burned face, arm and foot, Luff considers herself lucky. She says she is grateful she and her disabled husband escaped worse injuries when her Dell laptop exploded Sunday afternoon.

Langhorne-Middletown Fire Company Chief Frank Farry has been fighting fires for 25 years and says he's never seen anything like it. Farry says the evidence has been collected, but it appears the battery pack inside the computer went off like a bomb, sending debris six to eight feet away.

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"The battery pack was on the floor. It was in pieces," he says. "And then there were various plastic parts that landed in different areas within her living room."

Luff extinguished the fire by dumping water on the computer. Doctors told the 72-year-old, her burns are chemical related. She continues to recover from her injuries.

Fire experts say fires involving lithium-ion batteries in laptops are rare, but can happen. They say problems can occur when a laptop is being used with a fully charged battery while it's plugged in.

Dell's spokesperson released a statement: "Dell places the highest priority on the evaluation and investigation of all safety and potential safety issues for the products that we and our suppliers produce.  When Dell becomes aware of an incident, we handle it with the goals of assuring customer safety and a thorough failure analysis. Dell will take appropriate steps to investigate this incident. It's also important to note that, in our product documentation, Dell tells customers that "using an incompatible battery or a third-party battery may increase the risk of fire or explosion and that they should replace the battery only with a battery purchased from Dell that is designed to work with their Dell computer."

Luff says she did replace the battery about three years ago. She is not sure if the replacement is from Dell. She says she is not opposed to getting another laptop but she will not be testing her luck again.

"I would take the battery out every night because whoever thought this would happen once? I would never take the chance of happening a second time because I was lucky this time," Luff said.


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