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Authorities investigate iPhone explosion that burns 13-year-old girl

updated 10:00 pm EST, Fri January 31, 2014

Eighth-grader heard "pop" as she sat down with phone in back pocket

An iPhone 5c in Kennebunk Maine appears to have exploded early Friday morning when a 14-year-old student sat down with the device her back pocket, heard a "pop" and noticed smoke coming from her pants. The young lady, who was treated and released from a local hospital for "moderate" first- and second-degree burns, was assisted by classmates and staff to quickly get out of the pants where the "burnt" iPhone was later discovered.

The school was placed in a hold situation for around 20 minutes as emergency crews responded to the incident, the principal of the school told parents in an email explaining the incident. He credited quick action by the victim, the girl's classmates and staff was credited with preventing worse burns or injury. The "shorting out" of the battery happened around 7:40am as the girl was sitting down to begin the school day.

The girl immediately initiated a "stop, drop and roll" fire response reaction, trying to get out of the pants as smoke billowed from them with the assistance of classmates. "I commend the students, I commend our staff, and the Kennebunk first responders for their immediate response and for the way it was handled," Rodman said. "It was just a strange thing. A great response by everybody involved." He added that the entire incident was "something that I don't think people had ever seen before. I've never seen anything like that"

The state fire marshall is investigating the incident, said EMS Division Chief Andrew Palmeri, adding that "People should obviously use caution when placing their phones in their back pockets so as not to crush them and cause an electrical short." Apple typically also investigates such incidents to determine the true cause and prevent other incidents from occurring.

by MacNN Staff





  1. iphonerulez

    Dedicated MacNNer

    Joined: 11-28-08

    This is what I never understand. There must be countless hundreds of millions of Android smartphones all around the globe made by all sorts of manufacturers using substandard parts. Why is it that any time some smartphone explodes or burns someone it ends up being an iPhone? I can't believe that no other smartphones ever cause hazards or bodily harm to users. It always has to be an Apple product the news publicizes. There is definitely some news media bias against Apple. Besides, this 'hapless victim' shouldn't have been sitting down with an iPhone in her back pocket.

  1. Makosuke

    Forum Regular

    Joined: 08-06-01

    While there definitely seems to be a bias toward reporting whenever an Apple device has a weird failure, even the authority quoted in the article said "People should obviously use caution when placing their phones in their back pockets so as not to crush them and cause an electrical short."

    Although that's a fairly catastrophic failure, one would assume if you sat down on any device with a flat Li-ion battery and circuitry in it hard enough, and caught it wrong, it could snap and cause a short and fire. A guy where I work had a regular AA alkaline in his pocket with a paperclip at one point and shorted it enough to burn himself slightly and almost set fire to his pants, and Li-ion batteries are significantly more dangerous on account of the battery chemistry being so much more volatile if it fails catastrophically.

  1. coffeetime

    Senior User

    Joined: 11-15-06

    Usually females keeps their iPhones in their purses or front pockets just like anyone else. She's learning. Apple's new revised package when you first open iPhone's box and there's this label saying "To avoid burning your b-u-t-t, DO NOT place your phone in your back pocket. Otherwise Warranty and AppleCare will be voided". Second label on top of charger: "WARNING: To avoid electrocution, use Apple geniune part".

  1. lkrupp

    Junior Member

    Joined: 05-13-01

    "Why is it that any time some smartphone explodes or burns someone it ends up being an iPhone?"

    Because negative news about Apple makes money. Of course other devices explode and burn people all the time. With over a billion devices out there it's common sense. But only bad Apple news makes any money for the websites. Only bad Apple news generates the clicks and eyeballs to pull in those advertising dollars.

  1. jpellino

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 10-29-99

    Glad everyone's OK - but here's a crazy thought... how about we don't sit on $450+ pieces of glass and amperage?

  1. Inkling

    Senior User

    Joined: 07-25-06

    Agreed, putting a cell phone in pant pocket is already iffy. Putting it in the back pocket of a teen girl's probably already tight pants is asking for trouble. I know it looks geeky, but on all but the most formal occasions, I keep mind in a pouch attached to my belt and on the side where it's not going to get crunched down. That said, I hope Apple gives her a new iPhone in exchange for this one so they can discover what went wrong.

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-08

    I know it doesn't apply here (yet?), but if I hear about one more lawsuit over exploding iPhone batteries, I'm gonna lose it.

    Next thing you know, people will be suing Ford because they stuffed a rag in the gas tank and lit it, and, surprise, there was fire.

    It's Apple-branded, not Nerf-branded. Chances are, if you're doing something with the phone, and it explodes, it's likely your fault, not the phone's... chances are.

    If it's faulty, it's faulty, and Apple should, of course, take care of the issue... but the majority (if not all) of the lawsuits and calls for action against Apple are due to misuse, crappy 3rd-party accessories, carelessness, or simply rationalizing and absolving one's self of any kind of responsibility in the matter. Just like any other product on the market.

    If you apply a lot of pressure to the phone, it might break catastrophically. That's not the phone's fault.

  1. Eriamjh

    Addicted to MacNN

    Joined: 10-20-01

    Could the pictures be any blurrier?

  1. Charles Martin

    MacNN Editor

    Joined: 08-04-01

    In fact, most of the reports of explodey phones we've seen are other brands, not iPhones. Recent stories involving injury or death by iPhones have been mostly about faulty counterfeit chargers that electrocuted people -- not Apple's fault. But of course the most likely models that are going to have issues are Apple and Samsung, since they sell more than 90 percent of all the smartphones out there.

    While I personally wouldn't put my phone in my back pocket for a number of other reasons, I hope there will be a follow-up finding of exactly what happened, as this is the first case I've heard of where a phone caught fire due to being sat on.

  1. DiabloConQueso

    Fresh-Faced Recruit

    Joined: 06-11-08

    chas_m, more than likely, the battery was ruptured due to the phone being forced into the crescent shape of a butt cheek.

    Lithium ion batteries are quite dangerous if punctured, ruptured, bent, overcharged, or otherwise seriously damaged. I would assume that taking a flat battery pack and bending it around a curve (again, like a butt) would very likely damage the battery to the point of combustion.

    I'm assuming the "pop" that the teenager heard wasn't the battery exploding, but the phone's case and/or screen suddenly reaching its bendy-breaking point as the force of her sitting down and her pants forcing the phone to contour around her butt caused it to pop/crack.

    Here's some fun with Li-ion -- some of these show how little force is needed to get these batteries to combust:

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