Lithium ion batteries blamed for 2 SRO fires in Vancouver
Firefighters responded to two fires at single-room occupancy hotels in Vancouver this week, both caused by lithium ion batteries – an increasing concern across the city.
Vancouver Fire Rescue Services said the first blaze broke out Monday night, resulting in smoke and water damage to multiple units of the SRO. The second fire was sparked one day later at another address.
In both cases, authorities said an E-bike with a lithium battery was being charged by a modified or makeshift charger – not the manufacturer's supplied or recommended power source.
"It's creating excessive heating and thermal runaway effects within these batteries, and there's so much energy and potential energy inside them that they will explode," said Capt. Matthew Trudeau. "It looks like fireworks going off, and the effects can be pretty devastating."
Fortunately, sprinkler systems contained both of the fires to individual SRO units until crews could arrive and finish dousing the flames.
Lithium ion batteries have been a growing concern for Vancouver firefighters, who said the city has seen a 500 per cent increase in battery-associated fires since 2016.
Lithium batteries have also been linked to five fire-related deaths so far this year – more than any other fire source.
On June 11, another E-bike exploded at the Hotel Empress in the Downtown Eastside, killing one man who fell from a window.
Trudeau noted the batteries don't need to be improperly charged to pose a potential danger.
"They do have a risk inherent with them," he said. "We've seen battery fires in laptops, in bikes. We've seen them from all kinds of sources – and that's proving to be very challenging, and it's occurring at a fairly high rate."
But the use of modified chargers is particularly risky. Crews have found some chargers with modified wires, or alligator clips attached, so they can power devices they were not intended to charge.
Trudeau said he's currently collecting data on battery-associated fires in the city – including the total damage caused by lithium-powered devices – to better understand how firefighters and the public can reduce the risks.
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