Federal regulators should consider further regulations on electronic cigarettes on airplanes, the state's top fire official said after his office recently concluded one of the devices caused a small fire on a plane at Logan Airport.
The Aug. 9 fire, confined to a single piece of luggage in the cargo hold, forced a temporary evacuation of the plane. A baggage handler located and extinguished the fire before the JetBlue aircraft took off for Buffalo, New York.
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Massachusetts Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said his office's investigators confirmed, as initially had been suspected, that an e-cigarette packed in passengers' checked luggage somehow turned on, causing the fire.
In a letter earlier this week to the Federal Aviation Administration, he expressed concern that the devices can be inadvertently triggered in the normal handling of luggage.
"If this fire had started in the cargo luggage area and was undetected while the plane was in flight, a major tragedy could have occurred," Coan wrote. "The fire service would like to be assured that the appropriate federal authorities are not only aware of this life safety hazard but are actively taking steps to address it."
E-cigarettes generally are lithium-ion battery-powered devices that can heat up to more than 200 degrees Fahrenheit as they convert liquid nicotine into an inhalable vapor. Like traditional cigarettes, passengers can't use them in-flight. Under U.S. aviation rules, they are considered "personal devices" like laptop computers, cellphones and camera and allowed onto planes.
Coan said the passenger whose e-cigarette was the source of the fire won't face any state penalties, but he said he referred his office's findings to the FAA. The nation's airplane regulatory body deferred questions Friday to the U.S. Department of Transportation, which did not immediately comment.
Coan also forwarded his letter to the National Transportation Safety Board, the National Association of State Fire Marshals, the International Association of Fire Chiefs and U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren and Edward Markey.
In the wake of the August fire, the Massachusetts Port Authority, which operates Logan Airport, called for further restrictions for e-cigarettes on planes.