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London Fire Brigade issues new alert in wake of e-bike battery explosion

05 June 2023

THE LONDON Fire Brigade has shared video footage showing just how dangerous it can be when a faulty e-bike battery catches fire and explodes. The footage highlights the risks of the lithium batteries that are used to power e-bikes and e-scooters.

The e-bike involved exploded and burst into flames at a block of flats in Roehampton on the night of Saturday 20 May. The CCTV footage from the entrance to Avi Gooransingh’s home in Tangley Grove shows the bike’s battery literally erupting after it goes into thermal runaway.

That state then very quickly produces a white and grey-coloured, highly flammable and toxic vapour cloud which feeds into the air before igniting into a fireball a second or two later.

Gooransingh, who’s aged 29, narrowly avoids the fire and is able to run back into his flat, which he shares with his mother and sister. Firefighters were quickly on the scene and safely put out the fire.

The Brigade has been unable to determine exactly why the e-bike exploded, but Gooransingh knew something was not quite right due to the smell. He said: “I arrived home and there was such a potent smell. I asked my sister if she was using nail polish remover, but she replied ‘No’ and said the smell was coming from my bike. I thought the safest thing to do would be to take the bike out of the flat. When the bike exploded, I panicked. My sister and I ran back into the flat and we called 999.”

#ChargeSafe campaign

The startling video reinforces precisely why the London Fire Brigade has been running its #ChargeSafe campaign, which aims to highlight the fire risks associated with lithium batteries commonly used for e-bikes.

The Brigade has been called to 52 e-bike and 12 e-scooter fires so far in 2023.

Deputy London Fire Brigade Commissioner Dom Ellis said: “Although we cannot be sure why this particular battery failed, we do know that Avi’s e-bike was purchased second-hand and that an additional battery pack, bought from an online marketplace, had been fitted. Cheaper batteries purchased from online sources which don’t necessarily adhere to UK safety regulations are more likely to fail and present an increased fire risk.”

Ellis added: “Our Best Practice advice is also to buy from a reputable seller. As the video clearly shows, once the bike goes into thermal runaway, it can lead to a rapid and ferocious fire. Thankfully, Avi and his family were unharmed. There’s no doubt this episode could have been a lot more serious, which is why our advice is to store these items in a safe location if possible, such as a garage or a shed rather than inside the home.”

Gooransingh states the experience has put him off having an e-bike or scooter.

He said: “I’m definitely shaken up by what happened and I’m definitely not having one in my home again. If you do own an e-bike or scooter, I would recommend charging and storing it outside. If you cannot do so, then seriously think about whether you should buy one.”

Safety tips for e-bike users

*Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters. Store them somewhere away from a main through route. Best Practice advice is to store these items in a safe location if possible, such as a garage or a shed

*Do not attempt to modify or tamper with the battery. Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions

*Converting pedal bikes into e-bikes using DIY kits bought online can be very dangerous. They pose a higher risk of fire

*Check that the battery and charger meets UK safety standards. Watch out for any signs that the battery or charger isn’t working as it should, if they’re hot to the touch or have changed shape

*Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller. The London Fire Brigade harbours a particular concern where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they've been sourced on the Internet, as the goods may not meet the correct safety standards 

*Let the battery cool before charging. Batteries can become warm during their use. It’s advisable to allow them to cool down before attempting to re-charge as they could be more susceptible to failure. If charging batteries indoors, follow the stated advice on safe charging

*Unplug the charger once the e-bike’e-scooter has finished charging. Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when charging

*Ensure smoke alarms are fitted in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged and make sure they are tested regularly