Kevin Charach – CTV News Vancouver Multi-Media Journalist
Updated Aug. 13, 2022 4:02 p.m. EDT
Published Aug. 13, 2022 12:36 p.m. EDT
Manipulated Lithium-ion Battery Devices the Leading Cause of Fire Deaths in Vancouver
While the electric revolution continues gaining momentum, led by lithium-powered e-bikes and e-scooters, so too does a disturbing trend of devastating fires.
“We’ve had over 20 lithium-ion battery fires in 2022,” said fire prevention officer Dave Meers of Vancouver Fire Rescue Services (VFRS).
“Five of those have been fire deaths. Those are huge, huge numbers.”
Officials say lithium-ion-battery-caused fires have increased 500% since 2016. Meers says the fires spread fast, posing multiple safety risks.
“A process happens called thermal runaway, whether they (the batteries) start an explosive fire and they actually release a lot of toxic gasses,” said Meers. “That sometimes gets missed in these conversations.”
He says in his experience, lithium-ion-battery-powered devices have rarely caused fires when used and stored properly. However, the emerging trend of modifying chargers and batteries has dramatically increased the fire risk.
“They do start fires when they’ve been manipulated,” said Meers. “Don’t tamper with it or modify it.”
A quick search on YouTube brings up a seemingly endless amount of videos in how to get more power or speed out of virtually any lithium-powered device.
Earlier this week, two fires occurred at separate Vancouver SRO buildings, linked to modified e-bike chargers.
One battery expert told CTV News that with the rise of lithium-powered products, he’s noticed a glaring issue in quality control.
“An awful lot of uncertified batteries (are) coming to the market place,” said Richard Granholm, president of Battery World.
“Buy from a reputable dealer.”
He says he’s seen third-party batteries causing issues in products including e-bikes. One customer, he says, tried bringing in a modified e-bike to his store to request help with the battery. He refused, based on liability with the manipulated battery. He claims the battery exploded in the parking lot.
“It was like roman candles going off,” said Granholm. “A lot of people are opening them up, replacing cells, which isn’t really a great idea.”
With the majority of lithium-ion-battery-caused fires occurring in SROs, VFRS is launching an awareness campaign to educate tenants of the dangers in using and storing e-bikes, e-scooters and similar items.
Some tips include charging and storing the items away from anything that can catch fire and to keep the batteries at room temperature. Also, VFRS strongly discourages anyone from modifying their own devices.
Meers also suggests if the problem persists, a change to the fire code could be on the table.
“Something we could say is these items need to be charged outside or in a secure area,” said Meers, admitting he was speaking hypothetically.
He says other fire departments in major cities across North America are grappling with a similar issue, and believes more regulation on manufacturing could be a possible solution if the disturbing trend continues.