A man has described the moment a fire ripped through his home after the battery for his son’s e-bike “exploded like a grenade” in the middle of the night.
Andrew Beaton, 59, said his family were “lucky” to escape after the bike, bought online for his son last Christmas, burst into flames while charging under the stairs.
The blaze ripped through his Lancaster home at astonishing speed, momentarily trapping his wife and daughter upstairs and gutting the entire property within minutes.
“It took the fire brigade four or five minutes, that’s all, and the house had gone,” he told Sky News.
“It was that intense. I’ve never seen fire move so quick.”
‘They were going off like hand grenades’
Mr Beaton said his family would be dead if his 21-year-old son hadn’t got up for a drink.
The e-bike, which was charging under the stairs, caught fire after he heard several “pop” sounds from the kitchen before shouting up to his dad.
“I jumped up out of bed, ran downstairs, opened the front door and threw the bike outside,” said Mr Beaton.
“As I picked the bike up, all the batteries fell out. They were going off like hand grenades, exploding.”
His wife and daughter only managed to escape from the upstairs landing after he rushed back and forth from the kitchen with buckets of water to quell the flames.
It left Mr Beaton with blisters over his head and body.
The fire, which happened on 25 June, caused £50,000 in damage.
Mr Beaton’s 11-year-old son and daughter have been off school due to the mental impact of the ordeal.
Call for crackdown on batteries
The incident was just one in a series of recent incidents associated with e-bike and e-scooter batteries, which have prompted warnings from fire brigades.
Just days before, a woman and two children in Cambridge died in a flat fire likely caused by an e-bike on charge.
London Fire Brigade alone has attended 86 fires involving an e-bike this year, and 18 involving an e-scooter.
The government is now facing calls to crack down on the types of batteries used to power the vehicles.
A new report by charity Electrical Safety First has said they should be regulated like fireworks and heavy machinery, which require third-party approval before going on sale.
At the moment, lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes and e-scooters can go on sale with only the manufacturer’s declaration that they meet safety standards.
That is the case for many electrical goods, but exceptions exist for pyrotechnics, medical kit, and heavy machinery.
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Electrical Safety First chief executive Lesley Rudd said “reckless operators” in the space were “risking lives” and “giving responsible manufacturers a bad name”.
“The huge amount of energy released over time when a battery bursts into flames is unlike other fires,” she warned.
“In a matter of minutes a room can be decimated.
“This unique type of fire requires special measures to tackle the increasing problem.”
These lithium batteries contain much more energy than regular ones – the charity estimates a fully charged e-bike battery releases a similar amount of stored energy as the amount of explosive material inside six hand grenades.
During a controlled laboratory test, a lithium-ion battery fire was shown to spread rapidly, re-ignite, and cause 600C temperatures and sparks.
London Fire Brigade deputy commissioner Dom Ellis told Sky News most e-bike and e-scooter fires they attended involved batteries purchased from online marketplaces.
He said: “We are calling for more research and better regulation for such products, especially e-bike conversion kits from online auction/marketplaces, as well as providing more Information to our communities about safe buying, use and storage of e-bikes and e-scooters.”
Government vows ‘appropriate action’
Electrical Safety First’s Battery Breakdown report also advised ways to make e-bikes and e-scooters resistant to battery damage, including bigger wheels that are less susceptible to potholes.
It called for the banning of universal chargers, and for online marketplaces to better regulate the sale of potentially dangerous e-bikes and e-scooters on their platforms.
The government should also back a public safety campaign, it added.
E-BIKE SAFETY TIPS FROM LONDON FIRE BRIGADE
- Do not attempt to modify or tamper with your battery
- Converting pedal bikes into e-bikes using DIY kits bought online can be very dangerous
- Check your battery and charger meets UK safety standards
- Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller
- Let the battery cool before charging
- Unplug your charger once it’s finished charging
- Fit alarms where you charge
- Never block your escape route with anything
Sky News understands the issue of fires linked to e-bikes and e-scooters is being worked on across government departments and a research project has been commissioned to examine commonly used batteries.
A government spokesperson said: “The Office for Product and Safety and Standards is working closely with the fire brigade to ensure product safety issues are properly assessed and action is taken to protect consumers.
“If manufacturers don’t comply with product safety regulations, appropriate enforcement action will be taken such as ordering the removal of the product from the market.”