Fire chiefs issue 'urgent reminder' about e-scooter and e-bike fire risk

15 Apr 2023
The modified e-bike that is believed to have caused the fire that claimed the life of Sofia Duarte

The London Fire Brigade has issued an "urgent reminder" about the importance of storing and charging e-bikes and e-scooters safely after two separate incidents over the Easter weekend.

Firefighters responded to two separate fires believes to be sparked by faulty e-scooter or e-bike batteries over the weekend. The first was at a semi-detached house in Dalston on April 9, where one man was rescued by firefighters and required treatment for smoke inhalation.

London Fire Brigade deputy commissioner Dom Ellis said: "Investigators believe a converted e-bike caught fire at the house in Dalston and we understand the bike's batteries were purchased online second-hand.

"The bike was on charge at the time and due to where it was being charged, blocked an escape route and a man had to be rescued by our firefighters via a short extension ladder."

The second fire occurred on the ground floor of a three-storey house in Streatham, where firefighters were required to rescue two men from the property. Ellis said: "A smoking e-scooter was moved by an occupant from a room to a communal area of the house where the fire then spread.

"Moving the scooter significantly increased the risk to everyone inside the house and reaffirms our advice which is if you suspect there is a fire involving these types vehicles, leave it, shut the door, get out and call 999."

Charge Safe campaign launched following tragic death

The London Fire Brigade's urgent reminder came as part of its Charge Safe campaign, which it launched recently. That initiative has been backed by the mother of a 21-year-old who died in a fire believed to be caused by a converted e-bike battery, and who has urged people to be aware of the potential dangers of lithium batteries.

Sofia Duarte died on New Year’s Day 2023 in a flat fire on Old Kent Road in South Bermondsey, London. Investigators believe that the fire was caused by the battery of a converted e-bike in the entrance to the flat she lived in. The bike blocked the only escape route from the flat.

An inquest into Sofia's death is ongoing, but the London Fire Brigade has been given special permission to raise awareness of the incident to help prevent further deaths. The service has launched a new #ChargeSafe campaign to inform the public about how to use e-bikes and e-scooters safely.

Maris Frasquilho Macarro, Sofia’s mother, said: “Sofia loved life, she loved to party and she enjoyed her job working behind the bar at a nightclub. Now all I have left is my daughter’s ashes.

“I really want to make sure her death is not in vain and if I can raise awareness about the dangers of e-bikes and lithium batteries then there will be a positive in this. If we can save someone else’s life, I will take great comfort in that because at the moment I am hurting – I don’t want others to suffer as much as I have done.

“Sofia meant the world to me and my family. I don’t know how to live without her. It feels like a nightmare and I can’t wake up.”  

According to the London Fire Brigade, Sofia was asleep in her flat after working on New Year’s Eve, when other residents in the kitchen heard an explosion. They found a fire started at the bottom of the stairs, which they attempted to fight with an extinguisher and bucket of water.

Unable to halt the fire, they raised the alarm to other residents and, with the fire exit blocked, began to climb out a window. The London Fire Brigade was alerted to the blaze just before 1700hrs, and attended within four minutes.

Sofia was woken by a smoke alarm, and found thick smoke in her bedroom. While her partner suggested exiting through the window, Sofia instead headed towards the bedroom door and the stairs, unaware that the exit was already completely blocked by fire. 

She is understood to be the first person to lose their life in London due to an e-bike fire.

London Fire Brigade concerned by growing number of incidents

The London Fire Bridge said that it has so far attended an e-bike or e-scooter fire an an average of once every two days so far this year, with a 60 per cent rise in such incidents compared to 2022. The service attended 87 e-bike and 29 e-scooter fires last year.

According to the London Fire Brigade, investigators looking into the New Year’s Day fire found that it was likely caused by a ‘catastrophic’ failure of a lithium-ion battery pack on a standard bike that had been converted into an e-bike.

Most e-bikes and e-scooters on the market in the UK from reputable manufacturers and retailers are designed to meet the UK’s tough safety regulations and are generally safe, although taking precautions is always recommended. But there are growing concerns about machines sold online that do not meet those regulations, and machines that have been modified after purchase.

Safety charity highlights fire risk from unsafe e-bike chargers

Conversion kits allow electric assist motors to be fitted to standard bikes, although not all of them are sold with a battery. Many cheaper kits and batteries purchased online do not meet UK safety regulations, and present an increased fire risk because they are more likely to fail.

The London Fire Brigade also notes that DIY installations can damage equipment, further increasing the fire risk, although it says there is no evidence of poor installation in this case.

Dom Ellis, the deputy commissioner of the London Fire Brigade, called Sofia’s death “a tragedy”, adding: “E-bikes and e-scooters are becoming more common in London and the risk of significant fires is rising too. 

How safe are electric bikes? Move Electric investigates

“Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters. The only way to be sure of a legal, safe and reliable e-bike is to buy one in complete form, from a trusted and reputed retailer.  

“The number of incidents our fire crews are attending shows that buying a product from a reputable seller will help protect you, your family and property from bursting into flames - not forgetting the peace of mind it can give.”  

Key tips from the #ChargeSafe campaign

The London Fire Brigade’s new #ChargeSafe campaign is intended to increase awareness of e-bike and e-scooter safety. The key advice is as follows:

Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters.

Check your e-scooter or e-bike charger meets UK safety standards.

Always use the correct charger, buying an official one from a reputable seller.

Let the battery cool before charging.

Unplug your charger once you have finished charging your e-bike or e-scooter.

Fit smoke alarms where you charge your e-bike or e-scooter, and test them regularly.

The London Fire Brigade offers an online home fire safety checker tool here.


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