Hoverboards under heavy scrutiny, Alabama State Fire Marshal concerned

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Hoverboards are under fire! The two-wheeled, self-balancing scooters were a hot gift this Christmas season.  But fiery incidents have been popping across the nation, before and after the holidays got underway.

The house on Spencer Lakes Drive in Meridianville caught fire around 7 a.m. on November 23, 2015. (Photo: Courtney Crown/WHNT News 19)

The house on Spencer Lakes Drive in Meridianville caught fire around 7 a.m. on November 23, 2015. (Photo: Courtney Crown/WHNT News 19)

A few days before Thanksgiving, George Gregory got the worst possible wake-up call. Landscapers across the street who saw the blaze were pounding on his front door. He had seconds to grab his wife, two daughters, and the dogs and escape his Meridianville home.

Earlier that week, Gregory purchased two scooters from a company called Hoverboards Huntsville. They were stationed at a kiosk at Parkway Place Mall in Huntsville and promised a 7-day return policy if there were defects or operational problems.

But when Gregory got home and his daughters tried the boards out, he says it was as if they were possessed.

“We charged one up and it turned green and said fully charged. So my daughter tried to ride it, and it immediately locked up,” said Gregory.

He took the boards back to kiosk dealer, and, after what he calls a hassle and plenty of explanations, Gregory says he was able to convince the employee working the kiosk to exchange the boards. But when the family returned home, they discovered their boards were once again experiencing charging issues. This time, the kiosk refused to take the boards back, and Gregory resigned himself to the fact that this toy would probably just wind up collecting dust.

"When it didn’t work, I unplugged it, set it on the back of my golf cart in the garage, and never gave it a second thought.”

But this was just the beginning of the Gregorys' ordeal.

The next morning the garage was engulfed in flames and the blaze quickly took down his home. That home is all but rubble now. A 2015 charred Camaro sits in the driveway and his Christmas tree is burnt to the edges with blackened ornaments barely hanging on. There’s little left to be salvaged and 25 years of memories lost. But Gregory’s perspective remains intact, knowing he can replace his belongings but not his family.

Gregory is convinced his new bedeviled machines are to blame, and, if this North-Alabama fire is indeed linked to faulty hoverboards, it won’t be the first in our state.

Alabama State Fire Marshal Edward Paulk says a recent incident in Gulf Shores was the first hoverboard fire his agency has investigated. He places part of the blame on poor research and sloppy development.

“We have some products out there that aren't properly developed,” explained Paulk. “These companies are following a fad and are just putting parts together, and we are finding that some of those parts don't work well together.”

Paulk says some of the lithium-ion batteries contain combustible ingredients in the battery itself. Moreover, some of these products don’t meet industry and stateside standards, let alone rigorous testing.

The State Fire Marshal is still investigating the cause of George Gregory’s house fire. It’s a complex process to determine the origin of fires, especially electrical. But Gregory says he has no doubt they will find the link that he’s known all along.

“Somebody is going to get killed,” said Gregory. “It’s not a matter of if it does, it’s when it does. I have no doubt that is what started the fire and demolished my home and nearly killed me and my wife and my kids.”

So far, The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is looking into at least 22 hoverboard fires in 17 states. They say counterfeit lithium-ion batteries sold in knock-off brands are an issue they’re looking into.

Here’s some additional safety tips from the Alabama State Fire Marshal:

  • Don't buy a hoverboard from a seller that isn’t vetted and respected.
  • Make sure the product is tested by national testing laboratory standards.
  • Don't charge the board overnight or when you are not able to observe it.
  • Don’t use off brand chargers that aren’t designed specifically for the model in use.
  • These fires are grabbing all the headlines, but falling from the hoverboard is perhaps a greater risk, so always wear safety gear when riding.