As the electric revolution continues to gain momentum, led by e-bikes and lithium-powered e-scooters, so does the worrying trend of devastating wildfires.
“We had over 20 lithium-ion battery fires in 2022,” said Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS) fire prevention officer Dave Meers.
“Five of them were killed by fire. Those are huge, huge numbers.
Officials say fires caused by lithium-ion batteries have increased 500% since 2016. Meers says the fires have spread rapidly, posing multiple safety risks.
“A process called thermal runaway occurs that they (the batteries) start an explosive fire and they actually release a lot of toxic gases,” Meers said. “That sometimes goes unnoticed in these conversations.”
In his experience, lithium-ion battery-powered devices rarely caused fires when used and stored properly. However, the emerging trend to modify chargers and batteries has greatly increased the risk of fire.
“They start fires when handled,” Meers said. “Don’t touch it and don’t modify it.”
A quick YouTube search brings up a seemingly endless amount of videos on how to get more power or speed from virtually any lithium-powered device.
Earlier this week, two fires occurred at separate SRO buildings in Vancouver related to modified e-bike chargers.
A battery expert told CTV News that with the rise of lithium-powered products, he noticed a glaring problem in quality control.
“A huge number of uncertified batteries are coming to market,” said Richard Granholm, president of Battery World.
“Buy from a reputable dealer.”
He says he’s seen third-party batteries cause problems in products like e-bikes. A customer, he says, tried to bring a modified e-bike to his store asking for help with the battery. He refused, citing his responsibility with the manipulated battery. He claims the battery exploded in the parking lot.
“It was like Roman candles going out,” Granholm said. “A lot of people open them up, replace the cells, which is not really a good idea.”
With the majority of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries occurring in ORS, VFRS is launching an awareness campaign to educate renters on the dangers of using and storing e-bikes, e-scooters and similar items.
Some tips include charging and storing items away from anything that can ignite and keeping batteries at room temperature. Additionally, VFRS strongly discourages anyone from modifying their own devices.
Meers also suggests that if the problem persists, a fire code change could be on the table.
“What we could say is that these items should be loaded outdoors or in a secure area,” Meers said, admitting he was speaking hypothetically.
He says other fire departments in major cities across North America are struggling with a similar problem and thinks increased manufacturing regulations could be a possible solution if the worrying trend continues.