A lithium-ion battery sparked yet another fast-moving fire, this one in New York City on Sunday, leveling a supermarket and neighboring laundromat, authorities said.
Firefighters had water on five-minute-old flames inside Concourse Food Plaza, about 2 miles north of Yankee Stadium in the Bronx, but the blaze was already out of control, officials said.
An electric mobility device, possibly an e-bike powered by a lithium-ion battery, is blamed for the five-alarm fire, which was touched off at 10:40 a.m. ET.
“Something that we had never seen before, as far as a small fire turning into something (big) like this in a matter of a few minutes,” FDNY Chief of Department John Hodgens told reporters outside the burned-down businesses.
Firefighters across the country took note of the blaze.
Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Adam Thiel said Monday that even with the New York Fire Department’s experience and resources, firefighters have their hands full with the emergence of lithium-ion battery fires.
“We are learning a lot from the FDNY and researchers. But it’s not just the ignition source (the batteries), it’s also the fuels. We are really concerned. These types of fires burn hotter and faster than ever before,” he said. “It’s not just exponential grow, it’s logarithmic growth.”
E-bikes are a ubiquitous presence in major, high-density cities, especially in New York where this mode of transport is popular in delivery services.
The lithium-ion batteries that power them pose a significant fire risk because when units fail or overheat, they can release flammable, toxic gasses that can spark fast-spreading flames.
The batteries sparked more than 200 fires in New York City last year, killing six people and injuring nearly 150. That’s double the number of battery fires in 2021, according to the FDNY.
But bikes are not the only common conveyance powered by lithium-ion batteries.
An electric bus caught on fire on July 23 at a bus depot in Hamden, Connecticut, while parked at depot.
A woman, 36, and girl, 5, were killed when an electric scooter sparked flames inside a New York City apartment on Aug. 3.
Flames from an electric scooter swept through a home in Brockton, Massachusetts, on Jan. 6.
New York Mayor Eric Adams repeated warnings against buying knock-off brand batteries and storing them indoors.
“You must buy the legal batteries and also these batteries should not be placed inside your home,” he said.
Five New York City firefighters, a utility worker and medical first responder suffered non-life-threatening injuries while battling Sunday’s blaze.
“There is extraordinary damage. This entire building behind me is completely destroyed,” FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said. “The roof is caved in, there is nothing left and it is all because of this one single bike.”
Philadelphia Fire Commissioner Thiel said it’s going to take the combined efforts of product developers, regulators and public safety officials to mitigate this threat.
“It can’t just be fire services,” Thiel said noting that consumers need to follow instructions when comes to charging, storing and properly disposing of such products.
“Don’t assume that a call to 911 will fix everything. That’s the way it works on TV, but not the way it works in reality.”