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Combustible cell phone burns California man

Malfunctioning device is blamed for weekend fire that left a 59-year-old man with severe burns over half of his body.

Editors' note: Since this story published, new information has led investigators to change their tune as to how Picaso caught fire.

A California man suffered severe burns over half his body after his cell phone caught fire in his pocket Saturday, officials said.

Luis Picaso, 59, sustained second- and third-degree burns after his cell phone apparently burst into flames, quickly igniting his polyester blend pants, nylon shirt and windbreaker, said William Tweedy, lead investigator and spokesman for the fire department in the Northern California town of Vallejo. Picaso was transferred to U.C. Davis Medical Center and is reported to be in stable condition.

Firefighters arrived at the Travelers Hotel, a residential apartment complex in Vallejo, on Saturday night just before midnight, after sprinklers were activated. When they arrived on the scene, they found Picaso lying on his bathroom floor. The chair in which he had been sitting in his living room was still in flames, Tweedy said.

The cause of the fire is believed to be a cell phone Picaso had in his right pants' pocket. Tweedy said the cell phone was one of many contributing factors to the fire. He said Picaso had been intoxicated at the time of the fire. Tweedy believes buttons on the phone may have been depressed for a long period of time, which could have caused the phone to overheat and ignite Picaso's clothing.

The Vallejo Fire Department is not releasing the brand name of the phone.

"It was a freak accident," Tweedy said. "I believe it could have happened with any cell phone that was misused or had some kind of malfunction."

There have been other reports of cell phones catching fire. In July 2004, a young woman in Ontario, Calif., suffered second-degree burns when her Kyocera cell phone burst into flames while in her back pocket. The culprit in this incident was believed to be a malfunctioning battery. The U.S. Product Safety Commission had issued a recall of about 140,000 batteries used in Kyocera Model 7135 smart phones in January 2004. The notice said that recalled batteries could "short-circuit and erupt with force or emit excessive heat, posing a burn hazard to consumers."

More recently, a number of cell phone and notebook manufacturers have recalled products using lithium ion batteries over the past several months. In December, NTT DoCoMo, one of Japan's largest mobile operators, recalled cell phone batteries used in its third-generation handsets because they could generate excessive heat that could short-circuit the phone.

In August, Dell recalled 4.1 million notebook lithium ion batteries. Apple also recalled 1.8 million batteries in the summer of 2006 because they exploded into flames under certain conditions. And in September,