Exploding e-bike batteries can release similar levels of energy to six HAND GRENADES… And experts warn they are causing six fires every WEEK
Before going to bed, Rebecca Downes and her partner Patrick Ramsey were always vigilant about unplugging equipment around the house.
Having lost her childhood home in a fire caused by an electrical fault, Rebecca, known to her family as Becky, had good reason to be careful.
So when Patrick brought an electric bike home one evening, they decided to charge it in the bedroom rather than the kitchen, so they could keep an eye on it ‘just to be safe’.
What ensued, in the three minutes after Patrick connected the lithium-ion battery charger to the wall, is the stuff of nightmares.
The battery, which measured approximately 14 x 3.6in, exploded like a ‘Roman candle’, Patrick would recall later, with shards of metal embedding in their skin, as flames and toxic smoke instantly engulfed the room.
While Patrick survived, albeit needing months of hospital care, Becky (pictured), a mother of four, died from the horrific injuries she suffered in the fall
The battery, which measured approximately 14 x 3.6in, exploded like a ‘Roman candle’, Patrick would recall later, with shards of metal embedding in their skin, as flames and toxic smoke instantly engulfed the room. As the blazing battery was blocking the door, the couple’s only means of escape was to jump 30ft from their second-floor window (pictured: a similar electric bike fire)
As the blazing battery was blocking the door, the couple’s only means of escape was to jump 30ft from their second-floor window.
While Patrick survived, albeit needing months of hospital care, Becky, a mother of four, died from the horrific injuries she suffered in the fall.
READ MORE: Flat is destroyed by fire after e-bike battery overheated as it was being charged
If that hadn’t killed her, her 60 per cent burns would have done, the coroner presiding over the inquest into her death last month was told.
‘These batteries are so deadly when they catch fire, Becky didn’t stand a chance,’ her sister, Julie Downes, 49, told the Mail. ‘It’s not like charging a mobile phone, which has just three volts and would probably smoulder, allowing plenty of time to get out.
‘These e-bike batteries contain up to 52 volts (17 times as many) making them, I believe, far too dangerous to risk charging at home.
‘After what we’ve been through, and to prevent further loss of life, we would like to see all e-bikes and e-scooters completely banned.’
Fires from electrically powered scooters and bikes have caused eight deaths and at least 190 injuries in the UK since 2020, and are said to be the cause of at least six fires a week, according to safety campaigners.
What happened to Becky, who was 44, and her family is a particularly harrowing example of the potential dangers they pose.
The inquest into Becky’s death last year heard how the couple owned a bike shop in their home town of Blackpool, and had recently started trading in electric bikes and scooters.
The weekend before the fire, Patrick had taken a bike to a friend who specialised in electronics, as there seemed to be a problem with the battery.
On Tuesday, July 5, he collected the battery and put it on to charge in the kitchen at home. But when he and Becky went to bed, she’d said she was not happy leaving it charging in the kitchen, so Patrick took it upstairs and plugged it in.
Becky’s anxiety, it turned out, was tragically well-founded.
Terrifyingly, campaigning charity Electrical Safety First estimates a fully charged e-bike battery can release a similar amount of stored energy as the explosive material contained in six hand grenades.
‘These batteries are so deadly when they catch fire, Becky didn’t stand a chance,’ her sister, Julie Downes, 49, told the Mail. ‘It’s not like charging a mobile phone, which has just three volts and would probably smoulder, allowing plenty of time to get out’ (pictured: a similar e-scoter blaze)
Fire chiefs predict there will have been another 338 blazes by the end of this year alone.
This reflects the huge surge in popularity of electric-powered transport, with over a million people now owning e-scooters, while more than 300,000 e-bikes have been sold over the past two years.
Concerns are also being raised about the safety of electric cars after a fire on a cargo ship in the North Sea killed a member of the crew and forced others to jump overboard last week.
READ MORE: Why do e-scooters and e-bikes keep EXPLODING? Experts lift lid on the dangers – as London firefighters tackle two blazes a week sparked by gadgets
While the exact cause is still being investigated, Dutch broadcaster NOS quoted an unnamed official suggesting the fire may have been ‘sparked by an electric vehicle’.
Although it is strictly illegal to ride privately owned e-scooters anywhere other than on private land, e-bikes are considered a relatively safe, environmentally-friendly way of getting around.
However, challenging their ‘safe’ credentials, Electrical Safety First, insisted earlier last month, that regulations must be introduced for e-bike and e-scooter batteries, like those for ‘fireworks and heavy machinery’, which would force manufacturers to have their batteries approved by an accredited third party, such as a test lab, before going on sale.
Currently lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes and e-scooters, which release toxic smoke, can be sold with only the manufacturer’s declaration that they meet safety standards. This is in keeping with most electrical goods. However, Electrical Safety First believes vehicle batteries should be subject to more stringent regulations.
‘The huge amount of energy released over time when a battery bursts into flames is unlike other fires,’ warns chief executive Lesley Rudd. ‘In a matter of minutes a room can be decimated.’
Becky Downes’s family support any moves that will prevent other people suffering the ‘hell’ they have been through since her death.
Her daughter, Indiana, 14, was asleep when the blaze broke out. She was rescued by her brother, Callum, 27, who found her on the landing, her night clothes on fire, and crying for her mother, before handing her over to their brother, Coby, 17, and going back into the house to try to rescue Becky.
‘Callum ran back downstairs when someone said Becky had jumped,’ says her sister, Sonia Downes, 48. ‘Becky went straight into a cardiac arrest when she landed, and then the window frame landed on top of her.
‘For her children to witness that, I could cry just thinking about it. I don’t know how they’re ever going to get over what’s happened. Becky was a wonderful mum. We all miss her so much.’
However, the death toll is sadly rising. Just a month ago, Gemma Germeney, 31, and her children Lilly, eight, and Oliver, four, lost their lives in a fire believed to have been started by an e-bike left charging overnight at their maisonette in Cambridge (pictured: Lilly and Oliver Peden)
Callum was treated for smoke inhalation, while Indiana suffered extensive burns and spent many weeks in both Manchester and Birmingham Children’s Hospitals, always with a devoted family member by her side.
Adele, Becky’s youngest sister, has taken the children in, while Callum is hoping to become Coby and Indiana’s legal guardians. Meanwhile, the family is on a waiting list for a council property, as their home is uninhabitable.
READ MORE: Fire that killed mother and her two children, aged four and eight, as their father tried in vain to save his family ‘was started by a charging e-bike’
Indiana has recovered well and is awaiting a hospital appointment to discuss whether further treatment is needed for any scars. The emotional wounds, however, will take much longer to heal.
‘They’ve lost everything: their home, all their possessions . . . all this on top of grieving their lovely mum,’ says Sonia, tearfully. ‘They will never get over this; we just have to do what we can to make it as bearable as possible for them.’
As well as supporting Becky’s children, her sisters are eager to raise awareness about the risks of charging lithium batteries in the home, in the hope of preventing further tragedy.
However, the death toll is sadly rising. Just a month ago, Gemma Germeney, 31, and her children Lilly, eight, and Oliver, four, lost their lives in a fire believed to have been started by an e-bike left charging overnight at their maisonette in Cambridge.
Scott Peden, Gemma’s partner and the children’s father, was critically injured in the blaze while trying to rescue his family.
On January 8, Gary Shearer, 23, tried to rescue his father, Rab, 60, when fire, caused by an e-bike left charging overnight, tore through their home in Litherland, Merseyside. Tragically, it was an act of bravery which cost him his life. Sadly, his father did not survive.
Meanwhile, Sofia Duarte, 21, died on New Year’s Day, when an e-bike battery caught fire at her boyfriend’s flat in East London, where she was staying after they had worked late together in a club.
Sofia’s mother, Maria Macarro, who is also desperate to raise awareness about the risks of these fires, told the Mail: ‘It’s really scary how frequently these e-bike fires are happening. Since Sofia passed away, there have been more deaths. Why is the Government not imposing more regulations and punishments to prevent these deaths?’
Sofia’s boyfriend, Luis Zambrano, also 21, survived after leaping from the third-floor bedroom window, but Sofia was too scared to jump.
Maria and Luis are supporting the #ChargeSafe campaign, run by London Fire Brigade, to raise awareness of the risks.
The London Fire Brigade urges owners to buy from a reputable seller and make sure the battery and charger meet UK safety standards, store them in sheds or garages, never leave them charging while asleep or out, let the battery cool before charging and unplug once charged, and never leave them near exits. And, of course, to have working smoke alarms in every room (pictured: an e-bike battery exploding inside a home)
It urges owners to buy from a reputable seller and make sure the battery and charger meet UK safety standards, store them in sheds or garages, never leave them charging while asleep or out, let the battery cool before charging and unplug once charged, and never leave them near exits. And, of course, to have working smoke alarms in every room.
However, while smoke alarms are undoubtedly lifesavers, the fires spread too rapidly for them to prevent Becky, Gemma, Sofia and the Shearers losing their lives.
READ MORE: Terrifying reality of charging e-scooters indoors: Dramatic video shows moment battery bursts into flames while on charge in kitchen after being bought off Gumtree
This is one reason, according to Mark Hardingham, chair of the National Fire Chiefs Council (NFCC), that special precautions are needed. ‘If you see any signs of fire, raise the alarm, get out, stay out and call 999,’ he warns. ‘Only charge batteries when you are awake and alert so you can respond quickly if a fire should occur.’
Andrew Beaton, 59, supports this sound advice. He says his family was ‘lucky to escape’ after an e-bike burst into flames while charging under the stairs at their home in Lancaster.
Having been alerted by his son, Andrew threw the bike outside, giving his family time to flee, but still the flames gutted their house ‘in minutes’.
Avi Gooransingh, 29, is still haunted by thoughts of what could have been, had he not managed to get his e-bike out of the flat, in South-West London, which he shares with his mother and two siblings, before it exploded.
‘It was 11.30pm and I’d just got back from walking the dogs and I felt the bike smelt weird,’ recalls Avi. ‘I took it out and it exploded.
‘If I’d not taken the bike out, just two seconds before, it would have killed the whole family.’
So rapid was the blaze, which happened in the communal hallway of the third floor of their multi-storey 1970s block, that London Fire Brigade released a video of the e-bike going up in flames.
But while Andrew and Avi are among the lucky ones, the families grieving the loss of loved ones through preventable battery vehicle fires are doing all they can to raise awareness and stop more names being added to this tragic roll call.
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