Converted e-bike Causes Fire on North End Road

Fire Brigade issues warning after three women taken to hospital

Fire fighters outside the gutted flat in West Kensington
Fire fighters outside the gutted flat in West Kensington. Picture: London Fire Brigade

June 30, 2023

Three women had to be taken to hospital after a fire broke out in a flat in West Kensington due to a converted e-bike catching fire this Thursday (29 June).

The Fire Brigade received 15 calls from members of the public starting at 4:48pm and managed to have the fire on North End Road under control in just over an hour. Fire crews from Hammersmith, Fulham and North Kensington fire stations attended the scene.

The three women had managed to get out of the ground floor flat before the brigade arrived and they were taken for further treatment by ambulance.

Firefighters removed one gas cylinder as a precaution, as some cylinders can explode when exposed to heat.

The fire is believed to have been accidental and caused by a converted e-bike that was being charged at the time of the fire.

As a result, a further warning is being issued to Londoners about e-bikes and e-scooters.

London Fire Brigade continues its #ChargeSafe campaign, which aims to highlight the fire risks associated with lithium batteries which are commonly used with e-bikes and scooters.

A London Fire Brigade spokesperson said, “Lithium batteries are susceptible to failure if incorrect chargers are used and there is a significant risk posed by e-bikes which have been converted.

“Conversion kits allow people to add an electric motor to their bikes but not all of them are sold with a battery. 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. DIY installations can also lead to damage of the kit, increasing the chances of battery failure and the likelihood of a fire.

“Lithium batteries store a significant amount of energy in a very small space and are much more powerful compared to other types of batteries. If that energy is released in an uncontrolled way, then a fire or explosion may result. If there is overheating, crushing, penetrating or overcharging, then a fault can occur within damaged battery cells which may cause the battery to catch fire and/or explode.

"The number of e-bike and scooter fires that we are attending in London is incredibly concerning. So far in 2023, we have been called out to roughly one fire involving these types of vehicles every couple of days. As such, we have identified that fires involving lithium batteries are the fastest growing fire risk in the capital, which is why we launched our #ChargeSafe campaign.”

Footage released by the Brigade recently at two of those incidents in London shows just how dangerous it can be when a lithium battery catches fire and explodes.

According to data collected by the Brigade, most people injured in fires related to e-bikes and e-scooters are in their 20s, and often the fires are in homes where multiple adults are living together without children. The riskiest time for e-bike and e-scooter fires to take place are when charging lithium batteries. This is the time that batteries are most likely to fail.

Figure presented at City Hall show that London has seen a 60 per cent rise in the number of fires caused by e-bike batteries so far this year, compared with the same period in 2022.

Deputy Fire Commissioner Dom Ellis warned on Wednesday that the issue was a matter of international concern and could potentially become a “societal blindspot”.

He told a meeting of the London Assembly’s fire, resilience and emergency planning committee that New York has meanwhile seen several deaths caused by e-bike fires, including four people just last week after a fire broke out in an e-bike repair shop.

According to LFB data, there have been 70 e-bike, 14 e-scooter and 35 other lithium-battery fires in London so far in 2023.

Dan Parsons, director of Fully Charged, which bills itself as “London’s leading electric bike retailer”, said the problem had a clear socio-economic dimension.

“It’s very difficult to go out to a gig economy rider and say you must spend x number of hundreds or thousands of pounds on an electric bicycle so that you can go about your work,” he said.

“The reason that these guys and girls are choosing electric bikes, home-made kits, is that its inexpensive for them to assemble and to put together, and they can deliver more in less time and generate for themselves – but they are putting themselves in danger by doing that.

“So I do think that the gig economy employers have a responsibility and duty of care of those individuals, to ensure that they aren’t necessarily condoning the usage of those badly-assembled products.”

Baroness Fiona Twycross, London’s deputy mayor for fire and resilience, later told the committee: “There is an urgent need for the government to introduce a regulatory framework.”

E-scooters were banned on train networks in the South East earlier this month.

Transport for London introduced a ban on e-scooters and e-unicycles across its network in December 2021. Folding e-bikes are permitted on the network.

London Fire Brigade advice for all 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. Our 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 your 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 your battery and charger meets UK safety standards. 
  • Watch out for signs that the battery or charger aren’t working as they should – if it’s hot to the touch or has changed shape.
  • Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller.
  • There is 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. 
  • Let the battery cool before charging.
  • 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.
  • 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.

Written with contributions from Noah Vickers - Local Democracy Reporter

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