NEWS

Rogers modem fire nearly burned down house, says Ontario man

06/30/2015 06:14 EDT | Updated 06/30/2016 05:59 EDT
A 38-year-old Guelph, Ont., man says he's lucky his house didn't burn down after his Rogers Hitron modem burst into flames, filling his home with foul-smelling smoke and forcing him and his family to spend the night in a hotel room. 

Dennis Barbier said he first noticed that something was wrong at about 5 p.m. Monday after he came home from work and suddenly lost his internet connectivity. 

Barbier, who works in IT and repairs computers for the University of Guelph, says he went into the basement, where his family keeps the modem, to investigate. That's when he caught a whiff of burning plastic and noticed that his modem was on fire. 

"Like, I'm not talking a small flickering. It was a raging inferno," he said. "Like flames shooting out of it two feet high. It hadn't just caught on fire, it had been burning for some time. There was black soot everywhere. Luckily I do have a fire extinguisher, so I grabbed it and we put the fire out."

'Strange circumstances'

Barbier, who lives with his wife, Mary-Catherine, their 20-month-old son, John, and their yellow lab, Butters, told his family to get out of the house and call the fire department after he put out the flames. 

Guelph Fire Services arrived within a matter of minutes, according to Barbier, and after an initial inspection, firefighters set up a fan in order to ventilate the Barbier's home of smoke and fumes. The fire service followed up with a visit by a fire inspector.

"I was called in to investigate because it was kind of strange circumstances," said Craig Bottomley, a fire inspector with the City of Guelph. He noted he's never seen a modem catch fire in his four years on the job investigating fires in the city. 

Bottomley said the official cause remains undetermined, but based on his visit, he thinks the probable source of the flames was the modem.

Bottomley noted that the modem, which was sitting on top of a computer, may have overheated and caught on fire. Once the modem started burning, he said, pieces of burning plastic fell into an opening in the computer below, causing it to catch fire as well. 

"There was nothing suspicious about this fire in my mind," Bottomley said. "It was apparent the computer didn't start the fire. It was right basically where the power plugs into the internet modem."

"In my opinion it was very lucky that the homeowner was there at the time," Bottomley said. "If nobody had been home it would have been a full-fledged house fire. 

Barbier said that the computer was on at the time of the fire, and that while he had removed a fan to create an opening in the case, the computer generated very little heat and had a case that was solid aluminum, which is widely used in the computer parts business because of its efficiency at dissipating heat. 

"It's not like I just set this up," Barbier said. "I've run it in that configuration for at least two years, 24/seven, 365 [days]."

'House would have burned down, no question'

As for Barbier, he said he's aware of just how lucky he and his family are. 

"If it would have started at 9 a.m. our house would have burned down, no question," he said, adding he'd be seeking some compensation from Rogers.

 

"I want my house fixed, I want my insurance deductible paid for, I want the smell in my house gone," Barbier said. "I want that night back of my life. I want to not have firemen trudging through my house. I want a product that doesn't burst into flames. That's a pretty common, reasonable request." 

Most of all though, Barbier said he wants to make sure this is an isolated event.

"I guess I just want to make sure that if this is a problem with that model, I don't want to see this happen to someone else," he said. 

"I know everyone complains about Rogers," Barbier said. "I'm not going to turn this into a giant anti-Rogers, just for the sake of hating Rogers kind of thing, but if there is some kind of flaw in this device — I mean our house could have burned down." 

Guelph fire investigators will also be following up with the company, according to Bottomley. 

"I'm definitely going to look into that and check with them and find out if there has been any other incidents," he said. "I will be in contact with Rogers to let them know that I have a concern that was the potential cause of the fire." 

Rogers didn't specify whether it would compensate Barbier for the fire, but released the following statement to CBC News on Tuesday afternoon.

"We are grateful that no one was hurt and have spoken to the Barbier family by phone. Equipment is tested by the manufacturer and must meet strict safety requirements. We have dispatched a crew to investigate the situation and restore service as quickly as possible."

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