Cellphone ruled out as cause of fire

Further investigation reveals burns weren't caused by phone

An investigator for the Vallejo, California fire department has reversed an earlier finding and now says a cellphone wasn't the cause of a fire that critically burned a local man and damaged his apartment.

The investigator, William Tweedy, had said in a written report issued on January 13 that a cellphone in one of the man's pants pockets malfunctioned, igniting the fire. But on Thursday, Tweedy said the phone wasn't to blame after all, based on a test of the device that was conducted by an engineer from Nokia.

Tweedy says he called Nokia, the maker of the phone, for help with his investigation. "Their expert performed the test in front of me," he said last week. "The phone still works, so it's ruled out as the ignition source." The phone, a Nokia 2125i, suffered heavy external damage, but its battery wasn't affected, and the engineer was able to make a call with the device, Tweedy says.

He says there was no evidence of a circuit board fire inside the phone and that the device couldn't have got hot enough to cause the fire unless it had malfunctioned. Tweedy estimates that the phone would have needed to reach about 300 degrees Fahrenheit (149 degrees Celsius) to set the victim's pants on fire, far above the heat generated by a cellphone that is properly working.

"Originally, I thought the phone short-circuited or burned up to get hot enough to cause a fire, but that's not the case," Tweedy says.

A spokeswoman for Nokia confirmed that "in keeping with our commitment to product quality and safety," the company had sent an engineer to assist Vallejo fire officials with the investigation.

Tweedy says his investigation has been reviewed by other members of the Vallejo fire department and by an insurance investigator who also initially believed that the phone had caused the fire.

He added that he now has ruled out "everything" in the victim's apartment as a source of the fire. "Whatever caused the fire, the evidence of that thing burned up," Tweedy says.

The 59-year-old victim remained in critical condition at the University of California's, Davis Medical Centre as of Thursday, a hospital spokeswoman says.

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