Longboat Key man has grafts after e-cig battery burns

A Manatee County man was left burned and blistered after his shorts caught on fire. It's all because the battery in his e-cigarette exploded while he was carrying it in his pocket.

Matthew Betancourt was healing from second-degree burns, from the top of his thigh, down through his shin. He wanted to share his experience as a warning for anyone else using the devices.

"I never imagined it would blow up like that," he said.

Betancourt had just gotten to work on April 23. He had his e-cigarette and batteries stowed in his shorts pocket, as usual.

"I heard this hissing noise, kind of like and air can, a shooting noise," Betancourt said. "I looked down and, by that time, the battery was already on the floor, on fire

Matthew was so worried about putting out that fire, he failed to notice he was on fire, too.

"These are the shorts I was wearing when it happened," Betancourt said, holding up the charred clothing. "Basically, this had all burnt out by the time I looked down to it. The battery was on the floor. It burned straight through my pocket."

A failed lithium ion battery left him blistered and bandaged. He had to have surgery and spent four days in a hospital bed.

"They put the cadaver skin grafts all the way up to the top of my groin," Betancourt said.

His is not a unique story. Several cases of e-cigarette battery explosions have made national headlines.

Surveillance video from a Kentucky gas station showed a strikingly similar scenario, when a man's e-cigarette battery spontaneously burst into flames in his pocket. An employee comes running with a fire extinguisher.

Even though stories like this are scary, they are also rare, according to the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association, which has counted around 30 battery failures since the industry began in 2008.

"Don't carry your e-vapor batteries in your pocket," said co-founder Thomas Kiklas. "The change or they keys can short the battery out, causing it to overheat and fail. Or the button on the battery can be pressed, causing the battery to discharge for a long time."

"It's not common at all, and it's not exclusive to the e-vapor products," Kiklas said. "Cell phone batteries are lithium ion. It's the lithium ion batteries themselves."

Betancourt studies e-cigarettes. He even has his own vapor fluid line, 941 Vapors. If it can happen to him, it can happen to anyone.

"The product itself, I believe, is safe," Betancourt offered. "I don't trust the battery. People need to be extremely careful where they carry them, how they carry them, keeping them away from children."

It's been two weeks since the accident and Matthew is healing well. He's hoping he doesn't have to get any more skin grafts.

He still has no idea what caused the battery to explode. What he does know: he won't be carrying it in his pockets ever again.