"He was giving me money, he put his hand in his pocket, so suddenly there was fire. Big fire, and he was burning," Jassie Singh, who was working the register at the time, told CNN affiliate WFIE
. Surveillance cameras inside the gas station captured it on video. Hamilton steps back from the counter, shaking his leg, and then runs outside.
Manoj Kumar, another gas station employee who was working Saturday, told CNN that Hamilton then took off his pants to try to get rid of the flames. He said that Singh then "came out of the store, grabbed a fire extinguisher and sprayed it on the guy's leg." Then another customer took him to a hospital, he said.
"Third degree burns all up and down my leg. Just had an Ecig battery blow up and catch fire inside my pocket! Ouch ow ow ow," Hamilton posted on Facebook on Saturday afternoon. After he went to the hospital, he posted a graphic picture of his wound and clarified his injuries with the comment, "These are actually all 2nd degree burns so hopefully won't have to have surgery or skin graphs. But it's too soon to tell I think."
E-cigarettes are battery-operated devices that release liquid, usually with nicotine, in the form of vapor to users who inhale it. Neither the devices nor the liquids they deliver are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration or any other group in the same way other tobacco products are. The FDA has been considering doing so.
Scientific studies have shown conflicting data on whether using the devices aids smoking cessation
of traditional cigarettes. In the meantime, the use of e-cigarettes is on the rise
This is not the first time a spontaneous fire or explosion from an e-cigarette has been reported. Last October, Evan Spahlinger
of Naples, Florida, wound up in an intensive care unit and underwent surgery after an e-cigarette exploded, burning his face, neck, hands and lungs, his family told CNN affiliate WBBH
. The fire department was investigating if the lithium battery inside the vaping device was to blame.
In 2013, Kinzie Barlow told CNN
that she was charging her e-cigarette when it suddenly exploded and burned her 3-year old son, Khonor. He suffered first- and second-degree burns.
There have been 22 such incidents reported since 2008, when these products hit the market, said Tom Kiklas of the Tobacco Vapor Electronic Cigarette Association. But, he says, that's a tiny number when you consider that 9 million Americans are using e-vapor products and recharging them daily.
"It's not so much an issue of the e-vapor product but with the lithium batteries they are using, and most are mismatched to the charger," Kiklas told CNN. Consumers, he said, use batteries or chargers other than what's recommended, and that can be the problem.
He added that consumers should not to put these products in their pockets because coins can short-circuit the lithium-ion battery when they rub against the device.
The association has recommended a warning for their members to place on device packaging that tells consumers to not modify the devices or any associated hardware; not use batteries, power cords or chargers not sold with the devices; and not "carry batteries in your pocket or allow batteries to come into contact with any metallic object. Doing any of the preceding may cause the user serious or deadly injury."