Halloween flashlights ignite: Target pulls them from shelves after WalletPop inquiry

When you put a battery in a flashlight the flashlight shouldn't start burning. One my son brought home from a birthday party did.

It came from Target -- three for $1 in a package marketing them for Halloween. I dropped in a new Energizer battery, screwed on the top and the flashlight got warm right away. I shut off the flashlight and placed it on the kitchen table. A few minutes later a sizzling sound could be heard that we couldn't identify. The burning smell quickly led us to the flashlight, which was now smoking and melting from the heat. I grabbed an oven mitt, grabbed the flashlight and went out on the balcony and shoved it into a pot of dirt.

I'd have to say that after writing about dangerous products for more than a decade -- many cheap Chinese imports like this -- I hadn't had one go up on me. So I purchased another package of the flashlights and dropped batteries into two of them. One melted. The other was OK. Two out of three flashlights overheating isn't a good ratio in my unscientific test.

So I contacted the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, Target and the importer, Devrian Global Industries.

Target's response was swift and decisive. The flashlights are being pulled from the shelves at Target and anyone with them can get their money back. Target operates 1,684 stores in 48 states. Target declined to say how many flashlights were involved or whether others had reported similar issues. The CPSC, a spokeswoman said, has been notified.

"First and foremost, thank you for bringing this issue to our attention," Target spokeswoman Sarah Bakken wrote me in an email. "We have not yet been able to identify the cause of the flashlight overheating or melting but are currently conducting further investigation.

"Because the safety of our guests is a top priority at Target, we have issued a market withdrawal of the flashlights and all product will be pulled from our shelves. Guests that have already purchased the withdrawn product can return to any Target store for a full refund."

Anyone with questions is asked to email Guest.Relations@Target.com.

UPDATE (10/14):WBBM television in Chicago is reporting a fire started by a different set of Target Halloween flashlights.

Why is it taking so long for official recall announcements to go out to let people know these are dangerous? Halloween's getting pretty close.

And, Devrian Industries did eventually contact me -- not to make a statement, but to ask for the evidence -- the two flashlights. I've already promised those to federal safety investigators.

Bakken said the mini flashlights in the "See. Spot. Save." section had been tested and passed. Devrian, the importer, did not return an email seeking comment.

CPSC spokesman Scott Wolfson encouraged anyone who experiences problems with a product that could lead to an injury or property damage to report that to the safety agency. He urged consumers to retain the product if possible and let the CPSC know in the complaint that the product is available for them to examine.

The CPSC has recalled several children's flashlights, although none in the past few years. In each case the flashlights overheated and could have caused a fire.

As much as I would love to see this nation's reliance on cheap Chinese-made products decline, it was refreshing to see Target take such quick action. Going through the bureaucracy of the CPSC, especially if the company is less amenable, can lead to a lengthy process during which many more incidents can -- and often do -- happen.

If you have a product like this that starts to get hot, don't just toss it aside. Take out the battery if you can and report it to the company and the CPSC.
Recalled Children's Products
If you own any children's products or are going to buy some second-hand, this is a list that could help save a life. All have been recalled because they have put kids in peril -- with design flaws or defects that risk burns, broken bones and even death. Click through this gallery to view images of each product.
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