How to prevent e-bikes, e-scooters from starting a fire

Liz Kreutz Image
ByLiz Kreutz KGO logo
Friday, May 12, 2023
Here's how to prevent your e-bike, e-scooter from starting a fire
A fire overnight at an apartment complex in San Francisco's Sunset District is believed to have been started by an e-bike lithium-ion battery.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A fire overnight at an apartment complex in San Francisco's Sunset District is believed to have been started by an e-bike lithium-ion battery.

"We have seen a rise in lithium-ion batteries in San Francisco," San Francisco Fire Department's Lt. Jonathan Baxter told ABC7 News. "Fortunately, we haven't seen the severity of the rise in other cities, such as New York City has, but it could happen."

According to Baxter, the 2-alarm fire broke out around 1 a.m. Seventy firefighters responded, helping to evacuate dozens of people. Two residents who lived in the unit where the fire started had to jump from their second-floor balcony to escape.

"In total, five individuals were injured from this fire," Baxter said. "Only three required transportation and all are going to be okay."

RELATED: 5 injured, 8 displaced in overnight fire at SF high-rise, firefighters say

Firefighters say two residents jumped out of their window to get out of the building, but everyone injured is expected to be OK.

It's a lucky outcome, but part of a continuing problem: lithium-ion batteries that light on fire.

This is at least the third one ABC7 News has reported on this year in San Francisco. In March, an overcharged lithium battery was to blame for a fire in Bernal Heights and a lithium scooter battery for a fire in Polk Gulch.

SFFD said the fire on Tuesday was sparked by an e-bike that was in the middle of charging.

Dylan Khoo, an analyst at tech intelligence firm ABI research, said that's an important lesson: you should never charge your e-bike or e-scooter overnight or unattended.

"If you do buy one make sure you charge it in a cool dry environment. Don't charge it overnight, definitely," Khoo said. "And another one: don't charge it in entry ways -- which a lot of people do -- so if it does catch on fire you can't escape."

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Khoo said lithium batteries in e-bikes can be 50 times larger than those in our cell phones, which means if a fire does happen they can be more dangerous.

He said another reason e-bikes and e-scooters may more likely catch on fire is quality. People are often buying these bikes from less reputable manufacturers.

"And they're not really looking into who's behind it. They're just kind of looking for the cheapest," he said. "And the cheapest one is not generally going to come from the best factories."

He said that people looking to purchase an e-bike should look for one that is UL certified.

"UL certification is the gold standard for it," Khoo said, "However, it's not that easy right now because a lot of manufacturers aren't following the rules."

MORE: Crews contain 2-alarm SF fire; 1 injured, firefighters say

Baxter said right now there are no laws in San Francisco around how to store lithium batteries, but it's something the fire department is looking into. For now, he said e-bike owners need to take extra steps to ensure the public's safety.

He said in addition to Khoo's advice, he also recommends using the manufacturer approved charging cord, not overcharging, and doing daily checks of your battery for any possible damage.

"If you're on a bicycle, we always talk about the ABCs. Your air, brakes and chains," Lt. Baxter said. "If you have an e-bike, do your ABBCs. Your airs, brakes, batteries and chains. Check the battery to make sure if it's in good function and condition."

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