London fire brigade warns public not to tackle ebike fires

Warning after man sustains life-changing burns from trying to put out battery blaze with fire extinguisher

The London fire brigade has warned the public not to tackle ebike fires and has demanded “proper regulation” after a man sustained life-changing injuries when his bike caught fire on Friday, one of a spate of new battery blazes.

The fire in Highgate, north London, was sparked when the bike, which appeared to be used for takeaway deliveries, was left charging in a bedroom using a cable ordered online a day earlier. The owner tried to use a fire extinguisher but suffered multiple burns before firefighters put it out.

It was one of four separate ebike fires in the last 10 days in London, which saw more than 120 firefighters attending. In one case, an apartment block was engulfed by flames started by an ebike charging in a garden.

No one was injured, but there have been nine deaths nationally from ebike and e-scooter fires in approximately the last year, including in Cambridge, Merseyside and London, and hundreds of injuries since 2020.

“The stark reality is that some of these vehicles are proving to be incredibly dangerous, particularly if they have been modified with secondhand products or if batteries are used with the wrong chargers,” said the London fire brigade deputy commissioner, Dom Ellis. “We fear we will continue to see a high level of these fires unless urgent research takes place into the causes. Proper regulation is also required to help prevent people unknowingly purchasing dangerous products, such as batteries and conversion kits, from online marketplaces.”

The fire brigade’s warning came as the London assembly demanded a timetable for tougher government regulation and warned ministers it was “very concerned about the increasing number of lithium-ion battery related fires in London”.

Ann Clarke, chair of the London assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, on Monday told the Earl of Minto, business and trade minister: “This is even more of a worry … in places of multiple occupancy or multi-story residential building when others can be at risk.”

The remains of an ebike after a in Penge, south London.
The remains of an ebike after a fire in Penge, south London. Photograph: London fire brigade

Last week the Tower Hamlets council in the east of the capital, where Mizanur Rahman, 41, died in March after a battery exploded in an overcrowded council block, said it had seized 77 dangerous lithium ion batteries in recent inspections from local shops.

Lutfur Rahman, the borough’s mayor, has warned the home secretary, Suella Braverman, that “doing nothing is not an option”.

The Electrical Safety First campaign said there is now a “desperate need for action”. It has found dozens of lithium ion batteries and chargers for sale online, often from China, which potentially do not meet UK safety standards.

Last week, authorities in New York City, where 14 people have been killed in ebike fires this year, banned the sale or rental of ebikes and e-scooters that don’t meet safety standards.

Bicycle manufacturers say complete ebikes sold through reputable retailers are generally very safe when used as per instructions and are tested to British standards.

Last week 40 firefighters were called to a blaze in Roman Road in Bow where most of a shop was damaged after an ebike battery failed.

Eighty firefighters responded to two separate fires the previous weekend. Most of a third-floor flat was damaged after an ebike caught fire in Holborn on 9 September, while in Penge, south London, the next day a fire spread from an ebike that was charging in a garden to a block of flats.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business and Trade said: “The Office for Product Safety and Standards is working closely with the fire service to review all evidence of fires involving lithium batteries in ebikes and e-scooters to ensure the product safety issues are properly assessed and action is taken to protect users from harm.”


Robert Booth Social affairs correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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