A man who escaped a blaze at his flat has backed fire investigators in issuing an urgent warning following a spike in ‘ferocious’ fires caused by electric bike and scooter batteries.
Nihad Chemban was lucky to get away without serious injury after his electric bike battery caught fire while it was on charge at his flat in Tottenham in May.
London Fire Brigade’s Fire Investigation team has seen a rise in such incidents in recent weeks and wants to encourage people who use these products to be aware of the risks and highlight the danger of storing them in escape routes in the home or in communal areas such as hallways in blocks of flats.
Mr Chemban and his flatmate were both at home when the fire broke out and his flatmate had to jump from a first-floor window as the bike was blocking his route to the front door. Fortunately he landed on the canopy of the shop below and was uninjured.
Mr Chemban was in the shower when he heard a loud bang and opened the door to find smoke pouring from the room where his bike was on charge and into the corridor. He was able to escape out of the front door.
The 21-year-old said he had only just bought the new battery for the bike as he wanted to make sure it was up to scratch so he could look for a new delivery job.
He said: ‘I had only just bought the battery online a few days before the fire. I hadn’t had any problems with the bike before and I have had it for about seven months.
‘I have lost everything – all my clothes were destroyed; the bike was destroyed and even my passport has gone. It was so scary – everything is gone, everything is burnt.
‘People must be aware of these risks as you buy these batteries and you just don’t know if they are safe.
‘You just never imagine you will have a fire, I didn’t expect it, but I’m just lucky it didn’t happen overnight and I was awake – if I had been asleep it could have been different. I would never charge my batteries overnight now.’
Already this year, firefighters have attended more than 25 fires involving electric bikes or scooters and some of them have been significant incidents resulting in serious injuries.
In many cases, they are stored in escape routes or communal areas which can stop people being able to escape if they become involved in a fire. This year, there have been more than 120 fires in London which involved items stored in communal areas like halls and corridors.
Station Officer Matt Cullen is a Fire Investigation Officer with the Brigade and has been looking into the spate of fires. He said: ‘We have seen that when these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity which can leave residents with few safe options for escape.
‘These bikes and scooters are often stored and charged in escape routes in homes or communal areas so when a fire does occur, escape routes are blocked which immediately makes an already serious situation much more frightening for those involved.
‘We have seen people forced into jumping from windows as they can’t get out of their front doors as the bike or scooter which has caught fire is in front of it.
‘Even when the bikes or scooters aren’t in escape routes or communal areas, the fires are fierce enough that they pose an immediate danger to all occupants and we are seeing an increase in these types of fires.’
In February, eight fire engines and around 60 firefighters attended a blaze at a house in Acton which involved an electric bike battery. Eight residents managed to escape the property via ground and first floor windows, fortunately without injury.
And in April, there was another significant fire involving an e-bike in Walthamstow, when firefighters rescued three men from an outbuilding. They all required hospital treatment.
Station Officer Cullen explained that a lot of the fires which the team is seeing involve e-bike conversion kits (to convert a standard push bike into an electric bike rather than a purpose built one), which provide only the motors and control gear but batteries must be sourced separately.
‘At some of these incidents we have seen multiple batteries and chargers for a number of bikes in one property, which has resulted in the mixing of different chargers and batteries,’ he said.
‘We know that lithium-ion batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used and this may be a contributing factor in some cases.
‘We also know many of these incidents involve batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.’
So what can people do to keep safe?
The Brigade’s advice is to always use the correct charger for the product and buy an official one from a reputable seller.
Batteries can get warm during their use and it is advisable to allow them to cool down before attempting to re-charge as they could be more susceptible to failure.
Batteries should always be charged on hard flat surfaces where heat can dissipate.
Batteries can also pose a risk if they have been damaged, so try to ensure they are not getting knocked around while in use or while being carried as spares as this can increase the chance of damage to cells.
You should always make sure you unplug your charger once it’s finished charging. Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when charging and we would advise not to leave it unattended or while people are asleep.
Ensure you have smoke alarms fitted in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged and make sure they are tested regularly.
Lastly, the Brigade’s advice is to never block your escape route with anything, including bikes and scooters. Store them somewhere away from a main through route.