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GMFRS urges caution as electric bike battery fire destroys flat

New pictures of a flat significantly damaged by fire in a high-rise building in Salford show the potential dangers of faulty electric bike and scooter battery packs, as Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service (GMFRS) urges people to act responsibly.

A GMFRS investigation has found that the cause of the fire at Mulberry Court on 27 December 2022, was due to a faulty Lithium-Ion battery pack on an electric bike which the occupier had been charging in the bedroom of a flat on the tenth floor of the 17-storey building. 

At the height of the incident, six fire engines, one Turntable Ladder, one Technical Response Unit, one Command Support Unit, and a further two dedicated supporting fire appliances, were in attendance after being called out at 8.10am. Firefighters, using breathing apparatus, tackled what was an intense fire, bringing it under control using water jets and spent over six hours at the scene.

Crews successfully contained the fire to the flat where it started, which was left severely damaged, and prevented the fire from spreading to the rest of the building. However, GMFRS has warned that the consequences could have been much more serious and is urging owners of electric bikes and scooters to follow safety guidance.

GMFRS’s Head of Prevention, Area Manager Billy Fenwick said: “This is an incident, given it is in a high-rise building, that could have had more severe consequences had firefighters not acted so quickly in controlling and extinguishing the fire, alongside the building’s fire safety measures.

“The fire started due to a faulty Lithium-Ion battery pack that was left charging, and the pictures show just how quickly this type of fire can develop through a property. In 2022, we saw 14 fires caused by electric bike and scooter batteries which is up from eight in 2021 and just three in 2020. Thankfully we haven’t seen any similar incidents yet this calendar year, a trend we would like to see maintained.

“We are urging everyone with an electric bike to please be responsible and follow our safety guidance. Batteries can be a fire risk if they’re over-charged, short circuited, or damaged, so it’s important to protect them against being damaged and to charge them safely. It’s also important that when buying an electric bike, to purchase them – as well as the batteries and chargers - from a reputable seller. It’s the same if you are buying a kit to convert your normal bike to an electric one; buy from a reputable seller and check that it complies with British or European standards.”

On 20 November 2022 a nearby doorbell camera caught the moment a front window of a house in Failsworth was blown out following a fire caused by a number of modified electric bikes.

If you have an electric bike or scooter, remember to:

  • Follow the manufacturer’s instructions for charging and storing your electric bike/scooter
  • Fit smoke or heat detection in the room where you charge or store your electric bike/scooter
  • Store electric bikes/scooters and their batteries in a cool place. Avoid excessively hot or cold places
  • Always use the manufacturer approved charger for the product
  • Don’t overcharge and always unplug your charger when it’s finished charging
  • Don’t leave batteries to charge while you are asleep or away from the home
  • Don’t charge batteries or store your electric bike/scooter near combustible or flammable materials.
  • In the event of an electric bike/scooter or lithium-ion battery fire – do not attempt to extinguish the fire. Get out, stay out, call 999

You can find further advice for the safe use of electric bikes and scooters on the GMFRS website: https://www.manchesterfire.gov.uk/your-safety/fire-safety/house-maisonette-or-bungalow/electrical/e-bikes-and-e-scooters/

Salford housing association Salix Homes has launched its own fire safety campaign following the Mulberry Court incident to help keep its tenants safe.

Stewart Kerr, Building Safety Manager at Salix Homes, said: “Thankfully no one was injured during the fire at Mulberry Court, but the outcome could have been very different, and we want to warn our residents about the dangers associated with charging the lithium batteries in e-bikes and e-scooters.

“We’ve carried out extensive fire safety improvements to all our tower blocks in Salford, and fortunately the fire was contained to the flat where it originated, but the ferocity at which the fire took hold and the damage it caused to the property is quite shocking.

“The fire service has seen a rise in e-bike related fires and we are seeing more of our tenants owning and using e-bikes and e-scooters, so we want to ensure they’re taking the necessary steps to ensure they’re not putting peoples’ lives or homes at risk.”

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