The electronics industry has been looking to increase the power and decrease the size of their gadgets' rechargeable lithium batteries—after all, consumers always want smaller gizmos with longer life—but this drive towards more powerful batteries could be what's to blame for a series of on-flight combustion accidents (as reported by Christine Negroni for the New York Times):
Last month, a portable DVD player was dropped on an American Airlines flight, causing a fire. In March 2008, a United Airlines employee placed a flashlight in the storage compartment of a Boeing 757 at the Denver airport. A report said the flashlight exploded “like gunshots,” turning the on-off switch into a projectile. On a flight to Miami that same month, eight people were injured when a small battery fell against a metal seat frame. In the ensuing explosion, debris singed a passenger’s ear and hair and the smoke sickened seven crew members.
And authorities are positive that even more events like these go unreported. So what can you do?
You've already got a head start by making yourself aware of the risk caused by on-flight fires started by lithium batteries. When you take a flight, keep your gadgets where you can keep an eye on them and out of overhead storage bins. The often over-packed luggage and coat compartment is literally fuel for the fire.