Claim: An overheated laptop used in a bed caused a fatal house fire.
Example:[Collected via e-mail, July 2010]
A good friend of ours in Mequon lost their 25 year old son (Arun Gopal Ratnam) in a fire at home June 4th.
This is what happened.
He graduated from University two weeks earlier and came home. Had lunch with his Dad at home and decided to go back to clean up his room at school. Father told him to wait and see his mother before he goes back for a few days. He decided to take a nap while waiting for his mom to come home from work.
Neighbors called 911 when they saw black smoke coming out of the house. Their 25 year old son Arun 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 a laptop in the bed. When the laptop is on the bed the cooling fan does not get air to cool the computer and that is what caused the fire. He did not even wake up to get out of the bed. He died of Carbon Monoxide.
The reason I'm writing this to all of you is that I have seen all of us using our laptop in bed. Let us all decide and make it a practice not to do that. Risk is real. Let us make it a rule not to use laptops in bed or put our computers on a bed with blankets and pillows around.
Broadcast this message & you may save others
Origins: On 4 June 2010, 25-year-old Arun Gopalratnam died in a house fire at his parents' home in Menomonee Falls, Wisconsin. The young man perished in the basement bedroom where he'd been staying after completing his studies at UW-Madison.
A neighbor who spotted smoke issuing from the house that afternoon called the fire department, which arrived within minutes and began battling the blaze. Gopalratnam's body was discovered after the fire had been extinguished.
Total damage to the home and its contents was estimated at $250,000.
Despite the e-mail's assertion that the blaze had been touched off by use of a laptop in bed, Captain Tod Doebler of the Menomonee
Falls Fire Department told us in August 2010 that the fire was still under investigation and no determination as to its cause has yet been made. He later told us in response to a follow-up inquiry that the department had ended their investigation without having been able to determine a conclusive cause for the fire.
Captain Doebler confirmed during our phone call with him that the fire began in the bedroom used by the deceased, and that both a cell phone and laptop computer were present in that room. However, that these two items were found in the room where the fire started does not necessarily mean either of these electronic devices caused the fire. House fires can start in many ways, including electrical malfunctions in a home's wiring. Until the investigation is concluded, no one can reasonably say with certainty that he knows what started the blaze, let alone categorically state the laptop was to blame because its air vents had been blocked.
Laptops have touched off house fires in the past; but in instances where the distinct causes were known, the majority of incidents involved mechanical flaws in the units or their batteries — otherwise-robust laptops do not as a rule start fires even when their air intake vents are blocked. The key factor about the e-mailed caution is that it uses the circumstances of the death of Arun Gopalratnam to assert that any laptop (not just ones with faulty batteries or suspect wiring) could cause similar deadly fires if used on surfaces that compromised their air vents, such as beds or pillows.
While it is generally not a good idea to leave unattended powered-up laptops (or indeed most any other electronic devices) perched upon pillows or mattresses or surrounded by easily combustible materials (such as comforters and blankets), or to fall asleep while using portable computers in bed, most of the inherent danger comes from the risk of one's personal computer being one of those rare units that has a bad battery or has been wired improperly.