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Shepherd’s Bush high-rise flat fire prompts safety warning from LFB

28 June 2022

FIREFIGHTERS HAVE issued an urgent e-bike safety warning following a serious blaze at a block of flats in London’s Shepherd’s Bush on Wednesday 22 June. At the height of the incident, 60 firefighters were tackling the fire that occurred in a 12th floor flat. Fire crews led six people to safety and one man was taken to hospital.

The London Fire Brigade’s (LFB) fire investigators have determined the blaze was accidental and caused by the failure of an e-bike’s lithium-ion battery. Indeed, London’s firefighters have witnessed a huge spike in e-bike and e-scooter incidents as the latter have become more popular in recent years and have issued several warnings about how ferocious the resulting fires can be.

This year, 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 forms of lithium-ion batteries. Last year, there were upwards of 100 fires in the capital involving lithium-ion batteries.

Rise in incidents

Charlie Pugsley, the Brigade’s assistant commissioner for fire safety, said: “It’s incredibly concerning that we are continuing to see a rise in incidents involving e-bikes. When the lithium-ion batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and, because the fires develop so rapidly, the situation can quickly become incredibly serious. e-bikes and e-scooters are often stored in communal areas and corridors and can block people’s only means of escape.”

Pugsley continued: “Another issue with fires involving lithium-ion batteries, and which we witnessed at this latest 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 investigators have determined that many of the e-bike incidents have involved e-bike conversion kits (used to convert a standard push bike into an electric bike) rather than purpose-built e-bikes. These only provide the motors and control gear, but batteries for conversion kits must be sourced separately.

Significant risk

Pugsley observed: “There is a significant risk posed by e-bikes created through conversion. We are predominantly seeing fires in ones which have been purchased from online marketplaces and with batteries sourced on the Internet. The latter may not meet the correct safety standards. Lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used.”

He added: “Our advice is to try and store and charge these items in a safe location if possible, such as in a shed or a garage. If they have to be stored inside, make sure smoke detection systems are fitted and that means of escape are not obstructed. We know this will not be possible for everyone, so if e-bikes are being charged indoors, it’s always best to adopt safe charging and ensure that everyone in residence knows what to do in the event of a fire.”

Follow LFB advice

A spokesperson from Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council explained: “We are grateful to the Emergency Services for their speedy response on this incident. We urge all residents to follow the London Fire Brigade’s advice when charging e-scooters and e-bikes at home. These batteries and chargers, often bought unregulated on the Internet, are highly dangerous and expose people to unacceptable risk. We will be looking to take robust measures to ban charging inside Hammersmith and Fulham Borough Council-run accommodation and seek the Government’s assistance