MacBook Pro catches on fire, demonstrating potential danger of batteries

Posted:
in General Discussion edited May 30
A Reddit user has shared pictures of his 2015 MacBook Pro that burst into flames, practically demonstrating what stored energy and flammable electrolyte can do if a battery is damaged.




In a post that surfaced on Reddit's r/apple community on Wednesday, a user has describes how his MacBook Pro ignited while using it. He provided a video and some information about what had taken place.

"Yesterday afternoon my MacBook Pro exploded during normal use. It was on my lap, plugged in, and suddenly started to spew smoke out both sides. I quickly placed it on the floor where it popped, the smoke increased, and it caught fire," the user wrote. "Toxic smelling smoke filled my house triggering smoke and CO alarms. No one was injured, thankfully, but there was some damage to my home."

The video showcases a MacBook Pro placed on what appears to be the poster's porch. The MacBook can be seen emitting smoke and what seems to be a scorch mark is apparent on the wood adjacent to the unit.

Reddit user "Whitepandamusic" says that he took his computer to the local Apple store. They informed him that they could not do anything until the MacBook Pro spent 24 hours in a fire-proof safe, likely as a safety precaution. He also notes that they have escalated the situation, and that he will hear a response back within five business days.

An Apple "escalation" typically involves what is often referred to as a "capture" and shipping the unit in its entirety to Cupertino or other major depot facility. Upon arrival, engineers disassemble the machine to determine what went wrong.

The user of the 2015 MacBook Pro in this case didn't report any battery swelling, or anything else indicating a problem. In the MacBook Pro, a common symptom of a swollen battery is a trackpad that doesn't click anymore, or separation of the lower case from the enclosure. If you see either of these symptoms in any Apple portable Mac, an Apple Watch screen pushed out of place by the battery, or a separation of an iPad or iPhone case, we suggest you bring it to an Apple Store or other authorized service center for immediate examination.

Apple's response varies, based on what the examination determines. If the disassembly shows that the incident was not caused by a third-party product like a replacement battery that failed, or not otherwise induced by the user, the unit is generally replaced by the company.

Battery fires are caused by overcharge, overheating, damage, or even old age. The inner cells can "outgas" a flammable electrolyte mixture contained within. In an ideal situation, a battery membrane will stretch to contain the material, but eventually the membrane will rupture, leading to explosions and often fire.

As of now, it is not clear what caused the MacBook Pro's battery to rupture in such a fashion. It is possible that it could have been a charging malfunction or unseen damage.

There is no indication that this is a symptom of a widespread issue or a warning of a larger problem. There has not been an increase in battery-related failures in AppleInsider's collated service data, with the failure rates remaining flat over the last eight years.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 30
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,452member
    A Reddit user has shared pictures of his 2015 MacBook Pro that burst into flames, practically demonstrating what stored energy and flammable electrolyte can do if a battery is damaged.
    Was this battery damaged? It doesn't sound like it from the rest of the article
    fastasleeptokyojimutyler82dysamoria
  • Reply 2 of 30
    mknelsonmknelson Posts: 358member
    I had a client with a 2011/2012 15" (non Retina) - her trackpad wasn't clicking so she stuck something thin down the side (effectively stabbing the slightly swelling battery) and there was a fire. It wasn't anything as big as the above one though.

    Normally that kind of puncture damage is required to start a lithium battery fire - you need to allow oxygen in. The battery could have had a rare defect that made it burn without that kind of damage. Perhaps a bad heat seal of one of the cells.

    StrangeDays
  • Reply 3 of 30
    thttht Posts: 3,231member
    mknelson said:
    I had a client with a 2011/2012 15" (non Retina) - her trackpad wasn't clicking so she stuck something thin down the side (effectively stabbing the slightly swelling battery) and there was a fire. It wasn't anything as big as the above one though.

    Normally that kind of puncture damage is required to start a lithium battery fire - you need to allow oxygen in. The battery could have had a rare defect that made it burn without that kind of damage. Perhaps a bad heat seal of one of the cells.

    Could be any number of things. It’s amazing that there aren’t more battery fires reported considering the tens of millions per year sold, tens to hundreds of millions in users’ hands, and the Internet’s ability to find any iota of “news” like a bat in a case.

    These are like 6 sigma production processes, where 99.99999% of batteries don’t catch on fire. It’s amazing.
    StrangeDayschiaracerhomie3EsquireCatsSpamSandwichjony0
  • Reply 4 of 30
    hentaiboyhentaiboy Posts: 974member
    Owner must have been using a third party charger.

    /s
  • Reply 5 of 30
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,635administrator
    MplsP said:
    A Reddit user has shared pictures of his 2015 MacBook Pro that burst into flames, practically demonstrating what stored energy and flammable electrolyte can do if a battery is damaged.
    Was this battery damaged? It doesn't sound like it from the rest of the article
    The battery is absolutely the only thing that will cause this kind of destruction. But if your question is asking if the battery was damaged before the fire, there's not enough info to tell.
    bb-15racerhomie3
  • Reply 6 of 30
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,452member
    MplsP said:
    A Reddit user has shared pictures of his 2015 MacBook Pro that burst into flames, practically demonstrating what stored energy and flammable electrolyte can do if a battery is damaged.
    Was this battery damaged? It doesn't sound like it from the rest of the article
    The battery is absolutely the only thing that will cause this kind of destruction. But if your question is asking if the battery was damaged before the fire, there's not enough info to tell.
    Well, it's clearly damaged now! :p Yes, that was my question - was there external damage leading to the fire or was it intrinsic to the battery.
    edited May 30 tyler82linkman
  • Reply 7 of 30
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,652member
    This is the kind of fetish that will get the iHaters all wet in the pants.  So far, the article is dramatic, with absolutely zero detail and of course is (purposely?) left to the imagination of the reader to decide what happened.

    I hope this story is followed up.  I'm curious if it was a genuine Apple battery that exploded on its own, or a 3rd-party charger or replacement battery, or physical damage occurred that is not being mentioned.

    If it's legit, that makes ONE Apple laptop out of how many gazillions sold?  Either way, considering the explosive nature of lithium-ion batteries, I'm impressed that Apple's QC stays on top of this.
    lkruppSpamSandwich
  • Reply 8 of 30
    wood1208wood1208 Posts: 1,968member

    Such thing can happen but we don't know true circumstances in which such battery fire happened other than what is reported. Laptop sitting outside on deck in summer heat or car for long and probably running.


    macplusplus
  • Reply 9 of 30
    bloggerblogbloggerblog Posts: 1,853member
    My work's Mid 2015 MacBook Pro's battery swelled up and caused a bulge at the bottom. Checked the SN it's not part of Apple's battery replacement program.
    Hope it won't catch on fire.
  • Reply 10 of 30
    thttht Posts: 3,231member
    My work's Mid 2015 MacBook Pro's battery swelled up and caused a bulge at the bottom. Checked the SN it's not part of Apple's battery replacement program.
    Hope it won't catch on fire.
    Uh, it’s better for you to pay for a battery change versus living with the potential of the battery further ruining other components, like the trackpad, or not providing enough power.
    bb-15racerhomie3SpamSandwich
  • Reply 11 of 30
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,635administrator
    sflocal said:
    This is the kind of fetish that will get the iHaters all wet in the pants.  So far, the article is dramatic, with absolutely zero detail and of course is (purposely?) left to the imagination of the reader to decide what happened.

    I hope this story is followed up.  I'm curious if it was a genuine Apple battery that exploded on its own, or a 3rd-party charger or replacement battery, or physical damage occurred that is not being mentioned.

    If it's legit, that makes ONE Apple laptop out of how many gazillions sold?  Either way, considering the explosive nature of lithium-ion batteries, I'm impressed that Apple's QC stays on top of this.
    Our intention is to follow up.
  • Reply 12 of 30
    davgregdavgreg Posts: 376member
    My preference iOS user replaceable cells in all devices. Apple’s excuses for sealed in batteries are pretty lame.

    People seem to be keeping laptops and cell phones longer and I would expect to see more battery related problems.
    dysamoria
  • Reply 13 of 30
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,797member
    He was using it on his lap. Those computers are called “lap-top” metaphorically, not literally. Laptop doesn’t mean that it is to be used on someone’s lap or belly. That model has tiny air intakes on left and right bottom borders. If those are obstructed and the heat outlet below the hinge is also obstructed (very common case when using on the lap), I wish I am wrong but the unusually excessive heat may harm vulnerable parts such as battery. I am rather inclined to find a user error in that incident instead of an error in Apple’s quality control.
  • Reply 14 of 30
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,595member
    davgreg said:
    My preference iOS user replaceable cells in all devices. Apple’s excuses for sealed in batteries are pretty lame.

    People seem to be keeping laptops and cell phones longer and I would expect to see more battery related problems.
     This story is a perfect example of why that is such a terrible idea. Sure, if people are just replacing rundown batteries then the risk is minimal,  and I did exactly this with my 2012 MacBook Pro when the battery began to seriously degrade (no swelling).

    But if they are replacing a battery that has been damaged in any way (Not necessarily anything they did, for example degradation swelling), the chances of them accidentally causing a runaway thermal event or explosion/fire is very high.  Today’s lithium ion batteries have incredibly thin “skins“ and are highly likely to be punctured or otherwise damaged in the hands of untrained people.

    As with most car repairs anymore, it is nearly always best to have a trained professional with access to fire safes and other safety equipment do any replace/repair jobs on computers wrt to potentially dangerous materials like batteries.

     It astonishes me that most people – even those in this forum who are generally very knowledgeable — have not made the connection between Apple sealing up most of its components and the dramatically lower incidence rate of problems or damage involving batteries. Ask any tech, they’ll tell you. 
    StrangeDaysracerhomie3
  • Reply 15 of 30
    StrangeDaysStrangeDays Posts: 7,993member
    He was using it on his lap. Those computers are called “lap-top” metaphorically, not literally. Laptop doesn’t mean that it is to be used on someone’s lap or belly. That model has tiny air intakes on left and right bottom borders. If those are obstructed and the heat outlet below the hinge is also obstructed (very common case when using on the lap), I wish I am wrong but the unusually excessive heat may harm vulnerable parts such as battery. I am rather inclined to find a user error in that incident instead of an error in Apple’s quality control.
    Yeah no. If merely using a Macbook laptop on your lap caused explosions, we’d have heard about it sooner. 
    dysamoria
  • Reply 16 of 30
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,680member
    hentaiboy said:
    Owner must have been using a third party charger.

    /s
    Could be. Not sure why you include the /s.

    Many of those iPhone stories we read about in the past were almost all cheap or ignorant owners using some cheap knockoff charger.
  • Reply 17 of 30
    bb-15bb-15 Posts: 260member
    tht said:
    My work's Mid 2015 MacBook Pro's battery swelled up and caused a bulge at the bottom. Checked the SN it's not part of Apple's battery replacement program.
    Hope it won't catch on fire.
    Uh, it’s better for you to pay for a battery change versus living with the potential of the battery further ruining other components, like the trackpad, or not providing enough power.
    Absolutely. Not all computer repairs are free. 
    Years ago I paid to have a swollen MacBook battery replaced. 
    In my company we routinely replaced/repaired items which could cause injury.
    When a danger to safety is possibly involved & there is no warranty, imo it is better to pay for the repair/replacement of personal or company property.
    dysamoria
  • Reply 18 of 30
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,452member
    apple ][ said:
    hentaiboy said:
    Owner must have been using a third party charger.

    /s
    Could be. Not sure why you include the /s.

    Many of those iPhone stories we read about in the past were almost all cheap or ignorant owners using some cheap knockoff charger.
    A 3rd party MacBook charger would be highly unusual, and the fires I’ve read about were in the charger, not in the device. Unless the charger is giving voltage that’s way out of range the voltage regulator and charging circuit in the laptop should be able to handle it.
    elijahg
  • Reply 19 of 30
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 1,452member

    He was using it on his lap. Those computers are called “lap-top” metaphorically, not literally. Laptop doesn’t mean that it is to be used on someone’s lap or belly. That model has tiny air intakes on left and right bottom borders. If those are obstructed and the heat outlet below the hinge is also obstructed (very common case when using on the lap), I wish I am wrong but the unusually excessive heat may harm vulnerable parts such as battery. I am rather inclined to find a user error in that incident instead of an error in Apple’s quality control.
    Ummm... have you been in the airport, or a coffee shop or a university or in my house recently? People use laptops on their lap all the time. StrangDays is right - if that caused fires every single Starbucks would have gone up in smoke long ago.

    dysamoriaelijahg
  • Reply 20 of 30
    He was using it on his lap. Those computers are called “lap-top” metaphorically, not literally. Laptop doesn’t mean that it is to be used on someone’s lap or belly.
    Actually, the reason they were called laptops is that they were designed for use in situations where a desk might not be available - for example, when commuting by train. It was the original selling point and it remains a popular use case.

    In my opinion, the largest factor in the popularity of laptops over desktops was the decision by many tax agencies around the world to deem a laptop an ipso facto work machine and thus eligible for a tax discount or refund. In Australia in the 1990s and early 2000s, it was next to impossible to get acceptance that a home desktop machine would be primarily used for work, but for a laptop there was no burden of proof - even if you bought a 21" monitor with it!
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