The Mystery of the Smoking Backpack

Thursday, October 27th, 2016
Smoking Backpack
It was just like any other day. Students were learning and teachers were teaching, that is until the intercom beeped during second period. Instead of a normal announcement regarding the Pledge of Allegiance, Cougar Congrats, or sports practices, it instead told everyone to evacuate.

The student body filed out of the school as in any other drill, the difference being the urgency of the teachers. Instead of just standing in the parking lot, the teachers urged students to move as far back as possible without going into the road. During the approximately hour-long evacuation, the Chatham Township, Chatham Borough, and Green Village fire departments arrived on the scene, along with the Morris County Sheriff's Bomb Squad and Chatham police. Once students were finally allowed back into the building, the B150s wing was off limits, as the explosion had taken place in room B153.

Due to the lack of information and the nature of high schoolers, rumors started to fly almost immediately. The general consensus from students’ perspectives was that a vape charger or vape pen had exploded, backed up with little to no concrete evidence and instead the hope that it was true so that a funny story could be spread. The rumors were put to rest quickly by a second loudspeaker announcement, which confirmed that the explosion was caused by a student’s portable charger. While the backpack was still smoking, school custodian Manny Ferreira grabbed the backpack and ran it outside without knowing what it contained, putting himself in danger to save the student body. According to an inside source from the Chatham Township Fire Department, the batteries inside the portable charger expanded during class due to an overcharge, partially exploding the charger itself and expelling superheated liquid and volatile gas into the backpack. The inside of the backpack was melted from within, giving off the appearance that it was on fire. In the photo above, the long strands coming out of the cylinders on the ground are pieces of the battery that exploded out of the charger.

SMoking Backpack 2

To date, the Consumer Product Safety Commission has reported 540 complaints about portable charging devices, and lithium battery chargers have been reported to explode all over the country. Phones have also recently started backfiring, shown through the frequent explosion and eventual recall of the Samsung Galaxy Note 7. If there’s anything we can learn about the smoking backpack incident, it’s to be careful with your technology, because you never know when it might blow up!