Computer Fire

Every few years, I update computers so as to get something faster and uncluttered. On September 5, 2009, much against my better judgment, I purchased an HP Pavilion Elite. I've owned HPs before and have found them undependable and, upon purchase, laden with software I don't want. However, I had a much more computer savvy friend join me as I shopped, and he talked me into getting another HP (thanks a lot John!).

For almost two months, things were going fine and HP was redeeming itself. Then comes Monday morning. When I hit a key on my keyboard to wake up the computer, nothing happened. After a few more tries, I concluded that I must have done a full shut down the last time I used it, which is something I normally would remember doing. So, I press the power button. Nothing happens. I try again, but still no dice. Next I check the power, and that appears fine. I notice a green light on the back of the computer is on. For lack of a better idea, I replace the power cord and hit the power button again.

A few seconds later, a whiff of smoke hits me. For a second, I'm frozen in fear. As they say, where there's smoke there's fire. Then I see smoke billowing out of the side of the computer through the air vents. I immediately wonder where I put the fire extinguisher, only to realize that I have no freaking idea. Not wanting the fire to spread to the accumulations of paper on my desk, I decide to remove the smoking device from the house, if I can. I touch the computer to test the temperature, and it's okay. So, I unplug the numerous cables from the back and rush the billowing tower downstairs and out the front door. By this time, the smoke had mostly dissipated.

After an agonizing call to HP support that lasted over an hour, they said they would send me a box so I can ship the computer somewhere to be fixed. I might add, they seemed quite cavalier about one of their computers catching on fire. They said I would lose all my files unless I paid a $50 fee. The bigger problem is they said it would take seven to nine business days to turn around. I'm not sure if the clock starts from the time of the call or the time they receive the computer, but neither is acceptable in my mind.

Some of you may remember this is not the first time an HP computer has caught on fire. In May 2009 HP overheating HP laptops made the news. For more on that story, try the article Fire hazard forces HP to recall 70,000 laptop batteries.

Unfortunately, I had not done a backup since getting the new computer, which I admit is stupid of me. I've been backing up files for decades, and I've never had a catastrophe, so I admittedly became lazy about it. In two months, I produce a fair bit of work, which would have all been gone. Not to mention financial records, which would be extremely difficult to reconstruct. At this point, I didn't really care about the computer, but I was worried about my hard drive.

It would be extremely inconvenient to go without that hard drive for up to two weeks, so I went to Best Buy to see what the Geek Squad could do. They verified that the hard drive still worked, but they informed me that the power supply and mother board are toast. To cut to the chase, I bought an external hard drive holder and plugged it in to an older Gateway computer I let the kids use. This works, but I can only access my HP files; I can't use any software on the HP, and if I'm able to access e-mail from the HP, I don't know how at this point. Several hours later, I'm starting to recover, but a whole day has been wasted already on this matter.

So the lessons to be learned from this are:


  • Be advised of the fire danger with the HP Pavilion Elite. It would not surprise me if the same power source is in lots of other HP computers.
  • Know where your fire extinguisher is.
  • Back up frequently.


Since my first programming class at Los Alamitos High School, I have felt computers to be my calling in life. I've been using them all day long ever since. However, I must say that I'm really beginning to hate the things. I'm sure that every Mac user reading this will feel no pity for me. They have been trying to convert me since the mid-nineties. Maybe they are right, but I'm too vested in PCs and Microsoft to make the switch. At least I know to buy anything other than an HP next time.



  • Nov 12: The box to ship the computer to Tennessee came timely, and I sent it off the next day. Along with the computer I sent an angry letter, in particular about having to pay $50 to avoid having my hard drive wiped. About a week later they sent my letter back, with the check, by Fed Ex. Somebody wrote "VOID" on on the check. I'm not sure if it is because they agree that is isn't right to take my $50, or they already wiped the hard drive.
  • Nov 27: The computer arrived on Monday, after two unsuccessful attempts to deliver it the previous week. Despite my letter and check, they wiped my hard drive clean. It was as if I got an entirely new computer. This angered me greatly. It took several hours to install software, move my files over, and configure things properly. The job is still not done. Thank goodness I went to the Geek Squad to transfer my files before I trusted those nincompoops with my hard drive. To have your computer catch fire, and then have them delete all your files when it is being repaired, is just adding insult to injury. Man, has that company gone downhill since creating the greatest calculator of all time, the HP 15C in the early 1980's.