Fire in Shepherd's Bush flat

Firefighters issue lithium battery warning after huge London blaze

Image credit: London Fire Brigade

A huge fire in a London high-rise last month has prompted firefighters to issue an urgent warning about the risk of fires involving the batteries of converted e-bikes.

At its height, the blaze, which began in a 12th-floor flat in Shepherd’s Bush on 22 June, was tackled by 60 firefighters. Fire crews led six people to safety and one man was taken to hospital.

According to London Fire Brigade investigators, the fire was caused by the failure of an e-bike’s lithium-ion battery.

The Brigade said it has seen a significant spike in e-bike and e-scooter incidents, which have become more popular in recent years.

Just this year, fire crews have already attended 32 fires involving e-bikes and another seven involving e-scooters. So far in 2022, there have been a further 17 fires involving other lithium-ion batteries. Last year there were more than 100 fires in the capital involving lithium-ion batteries.

The Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, Charlie Pugsley, said: “It’s incredibly concerning that we are continuing to see a rise in incidents involving e-bikes.

“When these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and because the fires develop so rapidly the situation can quickly become incredibly serious. These items are often stored in communal areas and corridors and can block people’s only means of escape.

“Another issue with fires involving lithium-ion batteries and which we saw at yesterday’s fire is that when they fail, they eject their contents over a wide area which can lead to multiple areas of burning in the room where the fire has started.”

The Brigade’s advice is to never store e-bikes or e-scooters in communal areas, as if they are involved in a fire, it can easily block the only means of escape.

Investigators say that many of the e-bike incidents have involved e-bike conversion kits, which enable the user to convert a standard bicycle into an electric bike. These only provide the motors and control gear but batteries must be sourced separately.

Pugsley added: “There is a significant risk posed by the e-bikes which have been converted and we are predominantly seeing fires in ones which have been purchased from online marketplaces and batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.”

Earlier this year researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology argued that lithium-ion batteries made from rubber would be cheaper, longer lasting and also reduce the risk of fire.  

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