January 18, 2007 10:51 AM PST

Cell phone didn't ignite California man

Fire investigators in California now say a cell phone did not cause a fire that severely burned a man last weekend.

The Vallejo Fire Department said on Thursday that it has ruled out a malfunctioning cell phone as the cause of a fire that on Saturday night caused second- and third-degree burns on more than 50 percent of Luis Picaso's body.

Earlier this week, fire officials believed that the Nokia 2125i cellular phone found in the right pocket of Picaso, 59, was the cause of the fire. But when engineers from Nokia flew to Vallejo and tested the phone, they discovered that the electronic circuitry in the phone was undamaged and that the battery was still functioning.

William Tweedy, an investigator and public information officer for the Vallejo Fire Department, was present when the phone was tested.

"When we reinstalled the battery, the phone still booted up," Tweedy said. "If the battery had malfunctioned or the phone had short-circuited, it wouldn't have worked anymore. And it did, so we could rule out the phone as an ignition source."

Tweedy said the only other possible way the fire could have started was from some kind of smoking materials such as cigarettes, matches or a lighter. Even though none of these materials were found at the scene of the fire, Tweedy said the fire was so intense, it likely destroyed all evidence.

At the time of the fire, Picaso was wearing nylon and polyester clothing, which is highly flammable and likely would have caused the fire to spread quickly. Picaso had also been sitting in a plastic chair, which also would have intensified the blaze, Tweedy said.

Picaso remains in critical but stable condition at U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento.

Cell phone batteries have been blamed for other fires in the past. 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. 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.

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