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Brigade issues safety warning as e-vehicle fires reach record high

Three people have been killed and 51 injured in e-bike and e-scooter fires this year, reports Noah Vickers, Local Democracy Reporter

An e-bike after catching fire in South London (credit LFB)
An e-bike after catching fire in South London (credit LFB)

Fires caused by e-bikes and e-scooters have already reached a record high in the capital this year, London Fire Brigade (LFB) has warned.

So far in 2023, crews have already fought 104 e-bike fires along with 19 e-scooter blazes, overtaking the 116 total fires attended in the whole of last year, and higher than any other year in London.

Three people have been killed – in Southwark, Shadwell, and Kentish Town – and 51 injured in these fires this year, the LFB said, as they called for improved regulation to boost safety standards.

The brigade warned in particular of e-bikes or e-scooters that have been fitted with batteries or other parts purchased separately online, especially if they are not bought from a reputable seller. The fires are caused when the vehicles’ lithium batteries become damaged or fail.

Dom Ellis, the LFB’S deputy commissioner, said: “We recognise the environmental benefits they bring to travel in our city, but the stark reality is that some of these vehicles are proving to be incredibly dangerous, particularly if they have been modified with second-hand products or if batteries are used with the wrong chargers.

“Without urgent research into the causes of these battery fires and proper regulation that will help prevent people unknowingly purchasing dangerous products from online marketplaces, such as batteries and conversion kits, we fear we will continue seeing a high level of these types of fires in London.”

The most recent incident saw a man taken to hospital suffering from burns after an e-bike fire in Brixton.

In New York, the city council is set to introduce new laws prohibiting the sale, lease, or rental of e-bikes, e-scooters, and storage batteries, that fail to meet recognised safety standards.

In an analysis of the 73 e-bike fires that occurred in the first six months of this year, LFB investigators found that at least 40% are believed to involve a converted e-bike – that is a standard bike which has been electrically boosted using a so-called conversion kit.

At least 77% are believed to have involved the failure of the bike’s battery and at least 41% of the bikes are believed to have been on charge at the time of a fire starting.

The issue was discussed at a June meeting of the London Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee, where members were told that gig economy workers, such as delivery riders, make up a large number of those affected by the blazes.

This is because they often buy cheap conversion kits online, and then leave their converted bikes charging overnight before going out on their next shift.

Offering his advice to Londoners, Ellis said the vehicles should be stored outdoors if possible. If that is not possible, he said: “Never store the vehicle by your front door, in a hallway, or on any escape route. We’ve seen the devastating consequences of what can happen when an exit is blocked by an e-bike fire.

“Instead, keep it in a room where you can shut a door, contain the fire and call 999.

“Never charge your e-bike or e-scooter while you are asleep and unplug the charger once the vehicle has finished charging. Please also make sure you are using the correct charger for the vehicle.”

Baroness Fiona Twycross, London’s deputy mayor for fire and resilience, said she is “continuing to call on the government to introduce a regulatory framework which can help improve product safety, especially for lithium-ion batteries, and supporting the London Fire Brigade’s #Chargesafe campaign”.

A spokesperson for the Department for Business and Trade said: “We are consulting on modernising our product safety framework to hold online marketplaces to account, ensuring items sold online meet the same standards as on the high street.

“If businesses don’t comply with product safety regulations, the Office for Product Safety and Standards will take appropriate enforcement action such as ordering the removal of the product from the market.”