The mother of a 21-year-old woman who died at the start of 2023 has made a heartfelt plea to Londoners to take care with e-bikes and e-scooters, particularly to never block fire escape routes.
Maria Frasquilho Macarro’s warning comes following the tragic death of her only daughter, Sofia Duarte, who sadly died on New Year’s Day in a flat fire on Old Kent Road, in South Bermondsey. Fire investigators believe the cause of the fire is due to a converted e-bike’s battery bursting into flames in the entrance to the flat Sofia lived in.
Her plea comes as the Brigade launches its #ChargeSafe campaign, to help people safely use e-bikes and e-scooters and inform people about the dangers of charging, storing and modifying the vehicles and their batteries. This follows an increasing rise in the number of extremely serious fires involving lithium batteries which are commonly used with these modes of transport.
So far this year, on average, London Fire Brigade has been called to an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days – a 60 per cent increase in the rate of these fires compared to the same period as last year. In 2022, we attended 87 e-bike and 29 e-scooter fires, a total of 116 fires.
Conversion kits allow people to add an electric motor to their bikes but not all of them are sold with a battery. Cheaper batteries purchased from online sources which don’t necessarily adhere to UK safety regulations are more likely to fail and present an increased fire risk. While there was no evidence of poor installation in this case, DIY installations can also lead to damage of the kit, increasing the chances of battery failure and the likelihood of a fire.
London Fire Brigade’s Deputy Commissioner, Dom Ellis, said: “Sofia’s death is a tragedy, and our condolences are with her family and friends. We are working hard to prevent these types of incidents in the future.”
Ordinarily the Brigade is unable to talk about cases while Coroner’s court processes are ongoing. However, due the severity of this incident, special permission was granted to raise awareness of the fire risks and to prevent future deaths.
The #ChargeSafe campaign safety tips
Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters
Store them somewhere away from a main through route. Our advice is to store these items in a safe location if possible, such as a garage or a shed.
Check your battery and charger meets UK safety standards
Watch out for signs that the battery or charger aren’t working as they should – if it’s hot to the touch or has changed shape.
Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller
We have particular concern where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they’ve been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.
Let the battery cool before charging
Batteries can get warm during their use and it is advisable to allow them to cool down before attempting to re-charge as they could be more susceptible to failure.
Unplug your charger once it’s finished charging
Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when charging and we would advise not to leave it unattended or while people are asleep.
Fit alarms where you charge
Ensure you have smoke alarms fitted in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged and make sure they are tested regularly. You can quickly and easily check your home by visiting our free online home fire safety checker tool by visiting london-fire.gov.uk/checker.
Photo credit: The remains of the e-bike at the fire on Old Kent Road. London Fire Brigade.