SURPRISE, Ariz. - David Garcia said he'd never heard of an e-cigarette exploding before it happened to him.
Garcia said he put a spare set of batteries in his pocket before he got into his car. A few minutes later, Garcia said those batteries exploded and his pants were on fire.
"As I got into the turn lane, my pocket just combusted and it just lit up like the Fourth of July,” Garcia said. "I called my wife screaming, 'I’m on fire!'"
Garcia spent a week at the Arizona Burn Center at Maricopa Medical Center recovering from second- and third-degree burns to his leg and hand. Doctors gave him a skin graft on his leg and told him he likely has weeks of recovery.
“It’s a fairly common problem," Dr. Kevin Foster of the Arizona Burn Center said. "We’ve seen two or three of these cases here in the last couple of months.”
The problem, experts said, is due to the lithium batteries that power the e-cigarettes. Kevin Russell, a manager at Vape Escapes in North Phoenix, said the batteries are covered in plastic to protect them, but that plastic can be damaged or chipped away.
If the metal is exposed, he said, any contact with another piece of metal will cause the batteries to "vent", or explode. In Garcia's case, Russell said it's likely the other piece of metal was the second battery in his pocket.
“If there’s any tearing or damage around the outside of the wrap and metal connects with it," Russell said, "whether it be an additional battery, a coin or a key, it can cause the battery to short out."
Garcia's family have started a GoFundMe account to help with expenses. Garcia said he was supposed to be staying home with their newborn son after his wife's maternity leave ran out, but now that's not possible.