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Man burnt in mobile-phone fire

Spontaneously ignited in pocket

Fire investigators say a mobile phone that was left on caught fire in a sleeping man's pocket, causing a fire that critically burned the man and heavily damaged his apartment.

The man, Luis Picaso, 59, suffered second- and third-degree burns over 60 percent of his body, including his upper torso and arms, in the fire late on Saturday night, said the investigator, Bill Tweedy at the Vallejo Fire Department. The victim was listed in critical condition this morning at the University of California at Davis Medical Center, a spokeswoman said.

Picaso lives in a four-story building that once served as a hotel, Tweedy said. The fire in the second-floor apartment caused $30,000 in damages, but the fire was mostly contained because a sprinkler system was activated. The man was found in a bathroom by firefighters.

Tweedy said a thorough investigation showed nothing else in the bathroom could have started the fire, such as matches or a lighter. "The only thing that was a power source was the phone," Tweedy said.

Tweedy said it was a "pretty new phone" that was just a voice device, and not a smartphone. He refused to disclose the brand, saying it was not the kind of accident that would necessitate a manufacturer's recall.

"I think it was just a malfunction," Tweedy explained. "The phone was in his trouser pocket and he was leaning against a chair asleep, so one button was depressed. That meant power was going through the phone, and the phone overheated."

It didn't help that the victim's trousers were a polyester blend, which caught fire and then ignited his nylon shirt and jacket, Tweedy said. The fire spread from the victim to the plastic chair he was seated on, and the flame and heat from the chair set off the sprinkler.

The victim was unable to explain what happened since he was unconscious when found.

"I just think it was a freak accident," said Tweedy, who has been a firefighter and investigator for more than 20 years. "The lesson to be learned is that a mobile phone is a piece of electrical equipment, and any piece of electrical equipment can short circuit or malfunction."


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