The Danger in Your Pants (Minimal risk edition)

If you don't stuff your pants pockets with flammable items, you probably assume you may safely drop off to sleep without awaking to find your pants on fire. Luis Picaso of Vallejo must have. The San Francisco Chronicle recounts what happened next.

Luis Picaso, 59, was apparently sleeping on a white, all-plastic lawn chair in his room late Saturday night and was awakened as he was ablaze, said Vallejo Fire Department investigator and spokesman Bill Tweedy.

By the time authorities arrived shortly before midnight, Picaso was on the floor of the bathroom. He was in stable condition Sunday, Tweedy said Monday night. The plastic lawn chair -- a petroleum product causing a high-heat fire -- had melted. Picaso's soccer jersey -- made of quick-burning nylon -- was almost completely burned away.

"I did find one scrap on the floor," said Tweedy.

"Cotton holds up the best," said Tweedy. "The only thing he had on that was cotton was his underwear. Everywhere the nylon was, that's where he got burns."

Tweedy said that from the burn patterns on Picaso's clothes and body, it was clear the fire began in the right front pocket of his polyester-blend slacks.

"There were no matches," Tweedy said. "There were no lighters. He wasn't smoking. The only source was the phone that was in his pocket. I know he didn't spontaneously combust."

The phone. It was the cell phone.

What make of cell phone? you ask.

Tweedy declined to name the manufacturer or model of the phone.

"I don't believe it's a problem with any particular cell phone maker," said Tweedy. "It's a piece of electrical equipment. All electrical equipment can have a malfunction. This is a freak accident. ... It could be any brand of phone that could do that."

Well, we may not learn from the article which brand of cell phone you don't want in your pants while sleeping, or how often cell phones in general burst into flames (the risk is quite minimal, but the only figures available are from 2002-2004-- 83 reported fires out of 170 million phones-- and the number of cell phones in pockets has grown by about 50 million since then), but we have learned one important safety tip. If you carry a cell phone in your pocket, remember two important words: cotton underwear.


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