"I heard a small poof:" The story of a Dell on fire

Vernon Hills (IL) - It began with a soft pop and then turned into a one hot and blazing notebook: Henrik Gustavvson saw one of his firm's Dell computers bursting into flames and documented the events. The story, first published in the Tom's Hardware Forumz, have become an Internet sensation - reason enough for TG Daily to learn more about the story behind the pictures.

When was the last time you saw a laptop catch fire? For Henrik Gustavsson and his co-workers at a process automation firm in Vernon Hills, Ill., "last week" would be the answer. Gustavsson told TG Daily that at around 4 pm CST on 25 July, a colleague informed him something was on fire in another part of the office. He rushed over to the area and saw several people trying to put out a Dell laptop that was on fire. And while other employees grabbed fire extinguishers, Gustavsson picked up his digital camera.

"I read about the laptop in Japan burning, but never thought I would see it in person," said Gustavsson.

Gustavsson and another employee who only wants to be identified as "Bob" say the owner of the laptop had just returned from a business trip and plugged it into the docking station. The laptop had only been in the docking station for about half an hour when it one could hear "popping and crackling," according to Bob who was sitting right next to the laptop.

"I heard a small poof and a couple of crackling noises. Then a hissing noise that sounded like a flare going off," said Box. As he looked over to the laptop, he saw a cloud of smoke billowing up from the docking station and smelled the familiar "fried electronics" smell.

"I thought it was a power surge and turned off my computer," said Bob. Then the Dell popped into flames 8 to 10" tall and became a "conflagration" according to Bob. One employee tried to blow out the flames like a birthday cake, but that obviously didn't work too well. "The flames went down for a second, but then came back up," Bob said.

Employees then doused the laptop with fire extinguishers, but it wouldn't stop burning. "We hit it three to four times, but it wasn't going to stop burning until the battery was gone," said Bob. Gustavsson arrived with his 7.2 megapixel camera and started snapping pictures just as someone ripped the still burning laptop from the docking station and threw it out the building on a cement surface.

So where was the owner's laptop during all of this? He was in a different part of the building and ran back when employees told him there was a fire in his part of the office. Gustavsson says, "I was taking pictures when the owner came back. He went back to his dockstation to try to grab his laptop, but didn't realize that it was actually his laptop that had caught on fire."

Employees started telling the owner that his laptop had "exploded", but forgot to mention that it was outside. He looked down at the empty desk and thought his laptop had literally exploded into nothingness. "He came back and just saw the burn mark. The expression on his face was priceless," says Gustavsson.

Fire trucks arrived and eager fire fighters loaded with breathing devices and hatchets rushed in. What they saw was a smoke-filled office and a very well-done laptop on the ground. The fire had burned a hole completely through the bottom right portion of the laptop and there was very little left of the lithium-ion battery.

While laptops are expensive, many people consider the data on the hard-drive to be invaluable. Gustavsson told us that the hard-drive survived and the owner suffered almost no downtime. "They pulled the hard-drive, which was obviously still a little bit warm and dusty, and then put it in a different laptop." The transplanted hard-drive and the new laptop apparently are working just fine.

Dell has offered to replace everything that was damaged by the fire. Gustavsson says that Dell found out about the laptop fire through the "grape vine" and wants to replace the computer, docking station and LCD monitor.

Has the fire incident shaken Henrik Gustavsson's faith in Dell? He believes the fire was a fluke accident and mentioned that he understands that laptop batteries are made by a third-party. "I'm actually pleased with Dell computers and service and I'll still keep using Dells," said Gustavsson.