Firefighters are warning residents about the dangers of frayed cellphone charging cords, believed to be the trigger for a fire that caused extensive damage to a Hope home Tuesday.

Damage to the rental home at 442 Market St. in Hope is estimated at $50,000 to $70,000 for the structure and contents, firefighters said.

Investigators said the fire, which was spotted by a passerby just before noon Tuesday, is believed to have started in the home’s bedroom where a cell phone with a frayed charging cord was left plugged in between pillows on a bed.

“What happens is that those cords are good as long as they are in good shape,” Bartholomew County Fire Investigator Gene Wever said. “But when they get wadded up, or pets chew on them or they are damaged, they are dangerous.”

Wever said he wasn’t immune to the problem.

A couple months ago, a charging cord at his home popped and got hot, but Wever said he caught it before it could start a fire.

“I know how this can happen,” he said.

Any time an individual has a device charging, electrical current is going through the charging cord and will create heat as it charges a device, said Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman.

When a cord is repeatedly used, it can start to break down over time, along with the insulation inside the cord which can result in more heat buildup, he said.

It’s becoming common for people to keep their cellphones beside their bed or even on the bed, Wever said. However, if a cell phone user leaves the phone and the charging cord on the bed and the cord is faulty, there can be a fire, he said.

Especially if the phone is left on a bed, a fire can go through sheets and pillows quickly to the mattress, which can accelerate the fire and smoke, he said.

“When a charging device is surrounded by combustible materials, it’s generating heat,” Wilson said. “And then you have the potential for a fire.”

“You need to test these cords and make sure they are in good shape,” he said. “If you have to wiggle it around to make it work, it’s talking to you — replace it.”

Fire aftermath

Hope firefighters, along with firefighters from Hartsville, Clifford, Clay Township and Flat Rock, were at the residential fire scene in Hope through Tuesday afternoon.

The woman who rented the home was outside with her two small children and other children she was babysitting when the fire occurred, Wever said. A passerby motorist asking for directions asked the woman where all the smoke was coming from, alerting her to the fire, Wever said.

No injuries were reported and the pets were also outside the home and not injured, firefighters said.

Wever said the renter had renter’s insurance and the home’s owner had the home insured. Firefighters found operating smoke detectors in the home. The American Red Cross and The Salvation Army is assisting the family with housing and other needs.

Phone-charger safety tips

Here are some tips from the Columbus Fire Department about safe use of recharging devices, including cell phone charging cords.

  • Treat cords carefully and do not yank them out of outlets or allow pets to chew on them.
  • Damaged cords, those with wires showing or those that have loose connections, should be replaced. In addition to the fire risk, there is a possibility of electrical shock from using a device with frayed wires
  • Use the charger provided with your device to recharge and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Do not charge a cell phone under a pillow, on bedding or on padded furniture as charging cords generate heat as electrical current is used in the process of recharging.
  • Do not put anything over a charging cord or extension cord such as a throw rug or other covering. The cords generate heat; as they break down over time, they can generate enough heat to cause a fire.
  • When you are not using a charging cord, remove it from the electrical outlet. When the cord is left plugged in without charging a device, electrical current is still traveling through the cord and the device needs to be disconnected from the wall.
Author photo
Julie McClure is assistant managing editor of The Republic. She can be reached at jmcclure@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5631.