Last month, I reported that multiple EVs in Florida caught fire due to water damage from Hurricane Ian – a hazard that cost emergency services precious time in recovery efforts.
I also laid out the issues with lithium batteries, which lead to fires and related emergency response challenges. Now, New York City fire response authorities are reporting e-bikes and e-scooters have been catching fire regularly, up to four times a week on average.
Sometimes, it does so on the street, but more often, it happens when the owner is recharging the lithium ion battery. A mismatched charger won’t always turn off automatically when the battery’s fully charged, and keeps heating up. Or, the highly flammable electrolyte inside the battery’s cells leaks out of its casing and ignites, setting off a chain reaction.
“These bikes when they fail, they fail like a blowtorch,” said Dan Flynn, the chief fire marshal at the New York Fire Department. “We’ve seen incidents where people have described them as explosive — incidents where they actually have so much power, they’re actually blowing walls down in between rooms and apartments.”
…As of Friday, the FDNY investigated 174 battery fires, putting 2022 on track to double the number of fires that occurred last year (104) and quadruple the number from 2020 (44). So far this year, six people have died in e-bike-related fires and 93 people were injured, up from four deaths and 79 injuries last year.
In early August, a 27-year-old Venezuelan immigrant, identified as Rafael Elias Lopez-Centeno, died after his lithium ion battery caught fire and ripped through the Bronx apartment where he was staying. Carmen Tiburcio, a neighbor, said Lopez’s aunt told her he had tried to escape through the front door, but the bike was in the way. Instead, he took refuge in the bathroom, where he tried to fill up the bathtub with water to protect himself from the flames. But the smoke got to him, she said.
“He didn’t make it,” Tiburcio said. “His lungs were very bad.”
As I began preparing this report, I saw news of firefighters rescuing a desperate woman hanging from a window 20 stories above the street of a Manhattan high-rise after an e-bike battery sparked a massive blaze.
The smoky blaze reported at about 10:30 a.m. injured 38 people, including five firefighters, said FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh. Two tenants of the building at 429 E. 52nd St. had life-threatening injuries.
Two dozen residents escaped to the roof of the smoke-filled building, between First Ave. and Sutton Place — and ended up stranded there, as firefighters battled the blaze 17 stories below, on the building’s 20th floor.
The fire broke out when a lithium-ion battery attached to an e-bike exploded by the front door of a 20th-floor apartment, said FDNY Chief Fire Marshall Daniel Flynn.
Two tenants unable to escape by the front door — their only way out of the apartment — instead tried to go out a window.
It might be a good time to offer some recommendations from firefighters. To begin with, they recommend not charging e-bikes and e-scooters near the front door because a fire could prevent a rapid exit from the house or apartment. Other recommendations include:
- Only purchase and use devices, batteries, and charging equipment that are listed by a nationally recognized testing lab and labeled accordingly.
- Always follow the instructions from the manufacturer.
- Only use the battery and the charger that were designed for, and came with, the device.
- Do not keep charging the device or device battery after it is fully charged.
- Only charge one device or device battery at a time to prevent overloading the circuit.
- Keep batteries at room temperature when possible.
- Do not charge them at temperatures below 32°F (0°C) or above 105°F (40°C).
- Do not store batteries in direct sunlight or inside hot vehicles, and keep them away from children and liquids.
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