Four Dead After Lithium-Ion Batteries Ignite Fatal Fire in Lower Manhattan

In the deadliest toll from a fire linked to lithium-ion batteries, four people have been killed and two were sent to hospitals in critical condition after a blaze tore through a mixed-use building in Lower Manhattan. One of those saved was released from Weill Cornell/NY Presbyterian while a second is listed as critical but stable. The fire originated from an e-bike sales and service shop that had previously been cited for safety violations.

| 21 Jun 2023 | 03:04

A three-alarm fire that broke out early in the morning of June 20th claimed the lives of four people and left two women in critical condition after a lithium-ion battery exploded, igniting a deadly inferno. One hundred thirty eight firefighters and EMS personnel responded to the scene at approximately 12:15 a.m.— leaving one firefighter with minor injuries — after first responders received a call concerning an odor of smoke and fire. As of Jun. 21, one of the two women listed under critical condition has been discharged from Weill Cornell Medical Center, and the other remains hospitalized but stable, according to FDNY Spokesperson Jim Long.

Officials say the fire originated from HQ Ebike Repair, an e-bike sales and service shop located at 80 Madison St. in Lower Manhattan.

This is not the first time this shop has sparked concern. After an inspection in August 2022, HQ Ebike Repair was found guilty of violating fire safety policies related to the charging of lithium-ion batteries, the amount of batteries held at its location, and the electrical wiring that was being used to charge the store’s devices. The e-bike store was ordered to pay a $1,600 fine after the August violations, according to Chief Fire Marshall Daniel Flynn. The FDNY issued similar violations to the shop back in 2021 as well.

There have been 13 lithium-ion battery related fatalities so far this year, which is more deaths than in the past two years combined. Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh urged citizens to take precautions when using lithium-ion battery operated mobility devices. She explained that fires originating from these devices are “more so an explosion than a smoldering fire” which can make it “nearly impossible to get out in time.

“You often hear us saying that early warning is the best way to save yourselves from a fire, that is not the case with e-bikes. There is so much fire created that it can often be too late as soon as the fire has begun, and of course in a case like this one, where there are multiple bikes or multiple batteries, that’s even more true,” Kavanagh added.

Before the press conference in which the fire department stated that the fire originated within the bike shop, Biyun Lu, whose family owns the store, denied culpability in an interview with The New York Times. “We turn off all the electric panels, and we don’t charge anything inside the store. So there’s no way to catch fire,” he told the NYT.

The Red Cross reported that they are currently housing 23 adults and two children who have been displaced in result of the fire, which affected residential apartments above the ground floor shop. At the scene of the incident, yellow tape encircled a pile of charred e-bikes with frayed wires. More of the ashy bikes were stacked in front of the store. Several firemen were gathered at the scene, one still stood poised with a hose. Across the street, an FDNY fire safety truck equipped with a screen and set of speakers looped a PSA meant to warn locals of the dangers of lithium-ion batteries. Electric bikes and scooters have raised fire safety concerns for New Yorkers in light of their growing post-pandemic popularity.

In March, Mayor Eric Adams signed into law legislation that would prohibit the sale or rental of electric mobility devices that do not meet specific safety standards, in addition to prohibiting the repurposing of lithium-ion batteries. Several other bills are currently pending in the city council concerning lithium-ion batteries.