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Beware when charging your phone or tablet

Phone and tablet charger warning
An Ontario family got a scare recently when the tablet computer that they plugged in caught fire. As Seán O'Shea reports, it burned a carpet, wrecked the tablet, and left them questioning their decision to buy a particular replacement cable.

We take it for granted: plugging in a smartphone, tablet or device and getting re-charged in no time.

But have you ever considered the possibility that plugging in the phone could cause a fire?

Mark Ingram of Barrie, Ont. never gave that a thought, until his parents living in the Niagara area recently had a scare after purchasing a replacement charging cable.

“After using it a couple of days it caught fire,” Ingram told Global News.

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The cable, purchased for about $20 at an exhibitor’s display at the Toronto Home Show, was plugged into the existing Samsung charger. The seller said the quality was comparable to the original manufacturer’s cable, according to Ingram.

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When Ingram’s father came home, he heard Ingram’s niece “screaming, he rushed into the living room saw the carpet and cable on fire,” he said.

“Luckily he had work boots on, and was able to stamp it out,” said Ingram.

As a result, Ingram said the tablet is now unusable and there is a burn in the carpeting.

The cable was manufactured in China for Pi Electronics, a Markham, Ont. supplier of cables and audio equipment.

The company’s owner, Peter Yan, invited Global News to his showroom to describe and demonstrate how the cable could not be responsible for causing a fire.

“When you have a fire, you need a lot of power,” said Yan, baring wires from a similar cable and connecting a voltage metre that registered five volts.

Yan says he doesn’t believe the cable was at fault for the fire, although he says someone using a non-certified charger would be risky.

READ MORE: A hidden fire danger in your home

Yan also asked the customer to send in the charger, cable, and tablet so he could investigate further.

But an electrical engineer who contacted Global News pointed out that current, or amperage, is also important to consider. If there were a short-circuit along a cable, a large current could be drawn, causing the cable to heat up, he said.

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Global News has reported on other cases involving chargers and cable fires. In Richmond Hill, Ont., the local fire department warned consumers to be cautious when charging.

“Mobile devices and charging cables pose a fire risk. Please be mindful when charging electronics and unplug when not in use,” the fire service cautioned in 2017.

READ MORE: Could your cheap knock-off phone charger kill you?

Some fire departments discourage consumers from leaving their devices plugged in overnight. They also recommend against re-charging devices on soft surfaces including carpets and bedding.

Mark Ingram is grateful his family was not injured.

“What if this had happened when they were out, or at night when they were asleep?”