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Fatal Laptop Fire


Claim:   An overheated laptop used in a bed caused a fatal house fire.

MIXTURE:

UNDETERMINED: An overheated laptop used in a bed caused a fatal house fire in 2010.
 
FALSE: Laptops pose a general danger of catching houses on fire.

Examples:

[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
 

[Collected via e-mail, August 2013]

A couple lost their 25 year old son in a fire at home on June 4th. The son who had graduated with MBA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison two weeks earlier had come home for a while. He had lunch with his dad at home and decided to go back to clean up his hostel room. His father told him to wait, to meet his mother, before he went back for a few days. He decided to take a nap while waiting for his mom to come back home from work. Some time later their neighbors called 911 when they saw black smoke coming out of the house.

Unfortunately, the 25 years old 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 the laptop resting on the bed. When the laptop was on the bed cooling fan did not get the air to cool the computer and that is what caused the fire. He did not even wake up to get out of the bed because he died of breathing in carbon monoxide.

The reason I am writing this to all of you is that I have seen many of us using the laptop while in bed. Let us all decide and make it a practice not to do that. The risk is real. Let us make it a rule not to use the laptop on bed with blankets and pillows around. Please educate as many people as you can.
 

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 its 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. 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 occasionally touched off house fires, 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. Moreover, nearly all major-manufacturer laptop CPUs now include automatic thermal shutdowns to prevent them from overheating, so the possibility that a properly functioning laptop could ignite a housefire are virtually nil. Therefore, the key factor about the e-mailed caution is that it misleadingly 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.

Barbara "overheated response" Mikkelson

Last updated:   28 August 2013

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Sources:

    Fenna, Kelly.   "Home Blaze Was Sparked by Laptop."
    [Liverpool] Daily Post.   4 November 2008.

    Weiner, Jeff.   "Police: Laptop on Mattress Started Palm Bay House Fire."
    Orlando Sentinel.   30 July 2010.

    WTMJ-TV [Milwaukee].   "Officials: Deadly Fire Started in Basement."
    4 June 2010.

    WISN-TV [Milwaukee].   "Man Dies in Menomonee Falls House Fire."
    4 June 2010.

    Menomonee Falls Now.   "Investigators Searching for Cause of Fatal Fire."
    9 June 2010.