Hoverboard Sparks Major Melbourne House Fire, Family 'Lucky To Escape With Lives'

05/01/2016 9:41 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Justin McManus/Fairfax Media

A family of five has scrambled to safety after a house fire in Melbourne, which was apparently sparked by a charging hoverboard, with firefighters warning of the potential dangers of the popular personal transport device.

The Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB) said the "major fire" on Sunday night was ignited by a hoverboard plugged into a girl's bedroom at the home in Strathmore, in the city's north-west.

The girl received the hoverboard as a Christmas gift and it was on charge when it caught fire, the MFB said.

The fire quickly spread to the rest of the house and the five family members, along with their pets, fled when a smoke alarm went off.

It took firefighters 30 minutes to bring the blaze under control, and specialist investigators were at the scene on Monday.

The father of the house told reporters he had tried unsuccessfully to put the fire out.

"In the panic of it all, (I) slipped, fell on my back and by the time I came to stand up there was an explosion and I sort of scrambled and ran out and that was the end of it really," he said.

He said his daughter had plugged in the device only 10 minutes before the blaze erupted, and the toy still had 40 minutes to charge.

He told the ABC he researched the device to try and ensure it was safe and urged other families to be really careful when it came to buying them.

"Everyone's safe and the rest doesn't really matter. It's all material items," the father added.

MFB Acting Commander Phil Smith said no-one noticed the ignited hoverboard until it was too late.

"It's a young family, a family of four girls, seven to 10 years of age. They were sitting in the front room of the house watching television, [there were] colouring books on the table," the ABC quotes him as saying.

"Fortunately, one of the kids went down to the back room and saw the fire.

"It scares me to think that if it was night time, the kids were in bed, and this thing was actually plugged in the fire could very well have resulted in the loss of lives."

The house fire is a bad start to 2016 in Victoria after a particularly deadly 12 months for house fires in NSW. There were 17 accidental deaths in the state last year, up from 13 in the previous corresponding period.

Sunday's hoverboard-sparked fire comes days after Hollywood actor Russell Crowe took to social media after being barred from boarding a domestic flight with his kids' hoverboard due to safety concerns.

Hoverboards, which retail for between $200 and $2400, contain lithium-ion batteries which preclude them from being loaded as luggage on any Australian airline under safety regulations.

Also known as self-balancing scooters and called a "hands free Segways" by one manufacturer, they are often made in China and controlled by small shifts in the rider's weight.

In December, consumer group Choice warned about the safety risks of the popular item, especially about overcharging its lithium battery.

Choice said numerous instances had been reported overseas of hoverboards catching on fire.

"We are aware of a number of overseas reports of hoverboards catching fire while charging, with incidents being reported in Hong Kong, England and United States," spokesman Tom Godfrey said at the time.

"Although some hoverboards carry warnings about overcharging in their manuals, it's important to ensure you charge the device as directed. Don't put it on to charge and forget about it.

There are some key elements to look for when buying a hoverboard, according to Choice. These include:

  • An easy-to-read manual

  • A short battery charge time

  • A long-distance claim (meaning a longer charge will be maintained from the battery)

  • An inflatable tyre, but make sure they are topped up with air to the required level

  • Check the weight of the scooter if you need to carry it

  • Safety warning features when approaching maximum speed

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has also issued a safety warning about the ride-on toys.

A firefighter at the scene in Melbourne told reporters the batteries had sparked the blaze.

"The batteries have exploded. The inside have been spewed out," he said.

"Then the actual device would have caught fire and it has caught onto the bed and then spread through the rest of the house."

He said investigators would seek to track down the toy's NSW distributor and "establish whether or not this has the correct credentials to be in Australia".

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