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Electronics battery may be to blame for recycling fire

Lithium Ion battery suspected
Posted at 1:15 PM, May 21, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-21 23:22:00-04

TUCSON, Ariz. - A three-alarm fire in Tucson today brought out a huge effort to fight a blaze that may have been caused by a tiny object and it’s a reminder how easy it is for even in-shape firefighters to have trouble with summer heat.

The fire at Friedman Recycling near Roger and Romero was a very large fire and the suspicion is a tiny object started it: a lithium-ion battery of the type in most phones and laptops.

The fire had perfect conditions to grow.  Plenty of dry cardboard and plenty of wind to fan the flames.  

Firefighters say they can’t really determine a cause just yet but they suspect it may have been started by a lithium-ion battery that should not have been mixed with the paper.

TFD Capt Andy Skaggs says,“In a recycling plant like this somethings get mixed in with the recycling that shouldn’t be such as lithium-ion batteries.  Those lithium ion batteries get damaged and out of their environment they can create a fire hazard and the recycle plant has told us in the past those sorts of batteries have started fires in the recycling plant.” 

Plant workers suspect a battery because when the fire began they smelled an odor they’ve smelled in previous lithium-ion battery fires.

Firefighters say when it’s time to throw out anything with a lithium-ion battery, please don’t throw it in the trash or in ordinary recycling.  There are special recycling drop-offs for batteries in some electronics stores.

Tucson Fire called three alarms, that brought in 28 units, three ladder trucks and about a hundred firefighters .
The large turnout of firefighters helped deal with days like this one where summer heat combines with the heat of the fire to put even in-shape firefighters in danger of heat exhaustion.

Capt Skaggs says, “You’re talking almost 100 pounds of gear.  Picture yourself wrapped in a sleeping bag, trying to work outside for an hour.”  

Extra firefighters allowed fire commanders to give frequent breaks, and give firefighters a chance to get away from the heat and get into air conditioned vehicles.