AN electronic cigarette burned a section of carpet at the council’s administrative HQ after it “exploded” while being charged on a computer.
Stunned workers at Waverley Court looked on as the device, which was plugged into a USB port, shot against a wall before dropping to the floor and starting the blaze.
The woman who was charging the e-cigarette ran across the first-floor office and stamped out the flames during the bizarre incident, which took place at around 9.15am on Tuesday.
Council chiefs had already banned the devices being charged on computers, while using e-cigarettes is prohibited inside local authority workplaces.
The e-cigarette user, believed to work in data processing, was unhurt.
Another employee, who witnessed the incident and asked not to be named, said: “The e-cigarette was plugged into the USB port of her computer. All of a sudden it exploded and the device shot out six or seven feet like a missile before hitting a wall and setting the carpet on fire. The woman ran across and stamped the fire out. Everyone was quite shocked by what happened.
“There are quite a few people in the building who use e-cigarettes. Clearly they shouldn’t be plugged into computers if that can happen. It would give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘smoking kills’.”
E-cigarettes simulate smoking by producing a safe vapour that has no odour. A battery converts nicotine liquid into the vapour and the devices are often used by smokers as an aid to quitting.
Councillor Ricky Henderson, the city’s health, social care and housing leader, said: “I support the use of electronic cigarettes if it helps people to give up smoking.
“I suppose we all have to be careful about what devices we plug into a computer in this day and age, especially if they are left unattended.”
A city council spokeswoman said: “A minor incident occurred when an e-cigarette was being charged at Waverley Court on Tuesday morning. This resulted in a small amount of damage to two carpet tiles. The use of e-cigarettes is not allowed in council workplaces and staff are only permitted to use electrical equipment that has been tested for safety and is authorised.”
Although some countries have banned them, e-cigarettes can at present be bought without restriction in the UK.
Around 1.3 million Britons use them and there have been reports of the devices exploding. In one incident in the US in September, Elizabeth Wilkowski described plugging a Chinese-made electronic cigarette into her computer to charge it up when it exploded, rattling her entire house in Atlanta, Georgia.
She compared the explosion with a bomb detonation.