A North Vancouver house fire that left 10 tenants homeless when a blaze ripped through through a Moodyville home last month was caused by an electric bike charger, fire investigators have determined.
Multiple 911 calls came in from the 600 block of East Second Street around 5 a.m. Dec. 19 after fire quickly spread to multiple levels in the home at 628 East 2nd Street.
When fire crews arrived on scene “the entire first and second floors were significantly involved in heavy fire”, said City of North Vancouver Fire Chief Greg Schalk.
Tenants who lived in suites on the main floor and the basement escaped the blaze safety but fire damage to the home was significant, said Schalk.
Schalk said investigators have concluded the most likely cause of the fire was an e-bike that was charging on the front porch area in the south east side of the house.
The extent of the damage means it will likely be impossible to tell if the fire was caused by improper charging or a defect in the battery charger itself, said Schalk.
“Everything that was on that front porch is pretty much decimated,” he said.
The fire is the first caused by charging of an electric bike in the City of North Vancouver.
In April, fire crews in the neighbouring District of North Vancouver were also called out to a fire that started in a home in the 800 block of Browning Place in Seymour with a e-bike’s battery in the basement. Fortunately damage in that case was limited to some smoke.
But Schalk said fires caused by electric battery charging is a growing concern in jurisdictions across North America. Adding to the worry, in most cases, the e-bikes are being charged close to homes which can easily catch fire.
This summer, four single-room occupancy hotels operated by non-profit housing groups on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside were damaged by fires caused by e-bike lithium-ion batteries in just a three-week period. In June, another man in a Downtown Eastside SRO was killed when an e-bike battery exploded in his room.
In many cases, the fires are caused when e-bike owners aren’t following manufacturer's directions or recommended best practices for charging, said Schalk.
James Wilson, owner of Obsession Bikes in North Vancouver, which sells electric bikes on the North Shore, said the issue of electric batteries catching fire is a concern.
But Wilson said there’s a wide spectrum of products in the e-bike market, ranging in price from $1,000 to $15,000. Most of the well-known e-bike brands bought from reputable dealers are safe bets, said Wilson, but some lower-end products ordered online or bought second-hand may not meet the same battery safety standards, which includes safety certification from Underwriters Laboratory.
Wilson said e-bikes should not be left charging unsupervised or overnight. One option is to put a timer on the charger which shuts it off at a specified time – a practice he uses in his store.
Because of their high value, e-bikes are also often targets for thieves. But a stolen e-bike that’s being used or sold will quickly need re-charging, said Wilson. That often leads to people knowingly or unwittingly charging them with a charger that isn’t specified for that e-bike, possibly at an incorrect voltage. If a battery pack is broken into to jerry-rig a re-charging system, it’s also possible to damage it in ways that make it vulnerable to catching fire, he said.
“If the price of the bike is too good to be true, it’s probably to be avoided,” he said. “It’s impossible to build a bicycle for $200, so what are you getting hold of?”
For more e-bike battery safety tips, click on our story here: Why E-bike Battery Chargers Catch Fire and How to Prevent It.