London Fire Brigade has renewed its e-bike battery safety warning after a fire in a high-rise block of flats in south-east London last week. The charity Electrical Safety First has also called for tighter regulation, as it says dangerous e-bike chargers remain freely available from online marketplaces.
The Brigade was called to the fire on Arthur Street in Erith just before 11pm on Friday, January 27. Four fire engines and around 25 firefighters attended and the fire was under control shortly after midnight.
A woman and three children left the flat before firefighters arrived and were taken to hospital suffering from smoke inhalation.
The BBC reports that 88 fires involving e-bikes were dealt with by London Fire Brigade in 2022, up from 49 a year earlier.
Echoing previous warnings, a spokesperson said: “It’s incredibly concerning we are continuing to see a rise in incidents involving e-bikes and e-scooters.
“When these batteries and chargers fail, they do so with ferocity and because the fires develop so rapidly the situation can quickly become incredibly serious.”
They continued: "We are predominantly seeing fires in [chargers] which have been purchased from online marketplaces and batteries which have been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.
Last year Electrical Safety First found “highly dangerous” e-bike chargers for sale on Amazon Marketplace, eBay, Wish.com and AliExpress.
The consumer safety charity identified 59 online listings where e-bike chargers failed to meet the standards for UK plugs. Many lacked a fuse, meaning they had no means of cutting out in the event of a fault in the supply lead. This is especially dangerous where a lithium-ion battery is being charged.
Responding to the Erith fire, chief executive Lesley Rudd called for online marketplaces to be regulated to "force them to take reasonable steps to ensure that goods sold on their platform are safe".
Speaking more broadly, the London Fire Brigade spokesperson said: “Our advice is to try and store and charge these items in a safe location if possible, such as in a shed or garage, and if they have to be stored inside, make sure there is smoke detection fitted and your means of escape is not obstructed.
“However, we know this won’t be possible for everyone, so if you are charging them indoors, please follow our advice on safe charging and ensure everyone in your home knows what to do in the event of a fire.
“We would also suggest people try not to charge them when they are asleep, so that if there is an issue they can react quickly.”
E-bike batteries are increasingly a concern as the market matures and growing numbers reach the end of their usable lifespan.
Official industry advice is that a defective or end of life battery should be replaced by, “an authorised technically identical battery” – but this is not necessarily always an option as many batteries will no longer be available.
If you find yourself in this position, you can find out more about your options in our guide: Old worn-out e-bike batteries: repair, recycle, refurbish or replace?