Fire brigade calls for e-bike battery clampdown after London man suffers 'life-changing' burns

Four e-bike fires reported in just ten days across London, with fire brigade calling for more regulation

An e-bike after a fire
(Image credit: London Fire Brigade)

The London Fire Brigade (LFB) has called for "proper regulation" on e-bike batteries and charges after a man suffered "life-changing" injuries in a blaze caused by the products last week.

It was the fourth separate e-bike fire in the last 10 days in London, which has seen more than 120 firefighters called out. No one was injured in these four, but there have been nine deaths from e-bike fires in about the last year.

The latest, in Highgate, saw a man suffer "life-changing" injuries when his e-bike, which appeared to be used for food delivery, caught fire while charging and he attempted to put it out using a fire extinguisher.

The LFB's investigation into the fire found that the charger had been purchased from an online marketplace a day before; it urged people to always use the correct charger and to buy it from a reputable seller. It also said people should not charge their e-bike unattended, and that they should not tamper or modify batteries themselves.

“We recognise the many benefits e-bikes bring to travel in our city, but the stark reality is that some of these vehicles are proving to be incredibly dangerous,"  Dom Wllis, LFB's deputy commissioner, said in a statement. "Particularly if they have been modified with second-hand products or if batteries are used with the wrong chargers.”

“We fear we will continue to see a high level of these fires unless urgent research takes place into the causes of these battery fires. Proper regulation is also required to help prevent people unknowingly purchasing dangerous products, such as batteries and conversion kits, from online marketplaces."

Last week 40 firefighters were called to an incident in Bow, east London, where a shop was damaged after an e-bike battery failed. Separately, eighty firefighters responded to two fires earlier in September. Most of a third-floor flat was damaged after an e-bike caught fire in central London on 9 September, and in Penge, south London, a fire spread from an e-bike that was charging in a garden to a block of flats on 10 September.

According to the LFB, e-bike and e-scooter fires are London's "fastest growing fire trend".

 “We strongly recommend calling us immediately if there is a fire, but particularly if it involves your e-bike or e-scooter," Ellis said.

“Fires involving lithium batteries, which power these vehicles, can be ferocious, producing jets of flame. The blaze is also hot enough to melt through metal. This type of fire produces a highly flammable, explosive and toxic vapour cloud which should never be inhaled. The fire can also be extremely challenging to put out.   

"This incident, and the severe injuries sustained by this e-bike owner, highlights why you should never tackle a lithium battery fire. Our advice is to get out and call 999.” 

The LFB press release said that it had "particular concern where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they've been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards".

A spokesperson for the Department for Business and Trade told The Guardian: “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.”

It was reported earlier this year that the LFB receives a callout to an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days, a 60% increase on 2022.

The outlook is similarly bleak in the USA too, with New York City seeing a spate of fatal fires, as well as a tragic fire in an e-bike shop, which left four dead. New York City fire and building officials have since shut down an e-bike shop in Manhattan after 100 lithium-ion batteries were found inside - part of an effort in cracking down on the lithium-ion battery fire problem. 

Alarmed by the increase in violent blazes, the FDNY rolled out educational campaigns and standards regarding safely storing and operating electric devices while also imploring consumers to buy certified and reputable products. And earlier this year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed into law Initiative 663-A, a bill that bans e-mobility devices and batteries that don't meet a minimum safety standard, specified as the UL 2849 certification. 

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Adam Becket
Senior news and features writer

Adam is Cycling Weekly’s senior news and feature writer – his greatest love is road racing but as long as he is cycling on tarmac, he's happy. Before joining Cycling Weekly he spent two years writing for Procycling, where he interviewed riders and wrote about racing, speaking to people as varied as Demi Vollering to Philippe Gilbert. Before cycling took over his professional life, he covered ecclesiastical matters at the world’s largest Anglican newspaper and politics at Business Insider. Don't ask how that is related to cycling.