NEW YORK — A man was killed and 10 others were hospitalized when a charging e-bike battery sparked a raging Queens fire that tore through a home near LaGuardia Airport, police and fire officials said Saturday.
The blaze is the first fatal fire sparked by the lithium-ion batteries used in e-bikes and electric scooters this year, New York City Fire Department officials said. Last year, six people died in fires caused by these batteries.
“How many places have caught on fire because of these things?” stunned neighbor Anette Ruiz asked as she looked over pieces of the burned e-bike scattered on the ground outside the scorched brick-faced home.
“It’s very dangerous and they continue to sell these things,” Ruiz, 26, said. “At the end of the day it’s harmful and people can lose their life.”
A charging e-bike in the first-floor hallway of the 89th Street home in Jackson Heights exploded into flames around 11 p.m. Friday, officials said.
“[It] sounded like pops from the backyard,” neighbor Steve Gutierrez said. “I saw the black smoke coming from back there.”
A moment later, building residents were running into the street, Gutierrez, 23, recalled.
“They were calling for a ladder in Spanish,” he remembered. “Once I saw the fire get on the electrical wiring, that’s when I was like ‘Ok, let’s get everyone out of the house.’”
The burning e-bike was next to a first-floor staircase when it caught fire, FDNY officials said. The resulting inferno was so intense that it burned through the first-floor and second-floor staircases, causing them to collapse as firefighters entered the building.
With the staircases burned through, firefighters had to bring in portable ladders to get up to the second and third floors as the fire raged around them.
Firefighters found a man in his 60s on the second floor of the three-story home suffering from smoke inhalation. He was rushed to Elmhurst Hospital where he died. The victim’s name has not been released as police try to track down family members.
Six other residents of the home — which included a 57-year-old woman, a 45-year-old man and a 33-year-old man — who were rescued from the building, were taken to area hospitals with smoke inhalation, but were expected to recover.
Four firefighters suffered minor injuries as the staircases they were on collapsed around them, an FDNY official said.
About 100 firefighters responded to the blaze, which took about an hour to snuff out.
The fire threatened to spread to other homes, but was contained before it damaged any other addresses, firefighters said.
“It wasn’t a small fire,” said Nishat Chowdhury, 27, who lives next door. “The fire looked like it was touching our house. We’ve been up the whole night.”
Several e-bike and scooter batteries were found both in and around the home. They didn’t catch fire, but one ignited as a hazmat team collected the batteries after the fire was put out, sparking a new round of evacuations.
“At 1 a.m. they said we can go back to our house and then like 30 minutes later they told us to get out of there,” Chowdhury said. “We all had to evacuate.”
The burned and pitted facade was the home of one family who lived there nearly two decades, neighbors said. The Red Cross was finding shelter for the surviving relatives.
“Hopefully they figure something out because they’re homeless now,” said one block resident, who wished not to be named. “Once they come out of the hospital, where are they going to go?”
Lithium-ion batteries were responsible for more than 200 fires in the city last year, FDNY officials said. About 140 people have been hurt and six people have been killed in these fires, authorities said.
That’s more than double the number of lithium-ion battery fires the FDNY saw in 2021, when 100 fires were linked to e-bike and scooter batteries.
The FDNY has repeatedly warned about the dangers of placing e-bikes and scooters near staircases, which would cut off means of escape if they catch fire. Fire officials have also cautioned against allowing the batteries to charge overnight.
Most of the batteries that spark fires are pre-owned and resold and not compatible with a new device or have been damaged by repeated wear and tear on the roads.
Some landlords, as well as several colleges, have banned lithium-ion battery-propelled scooters and e-bikes from their buildings because of the potential dangers. The City Council is also considering legislation to regulate the sale of the batteries.
The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission sent a letter to 2,000 manufacturers and importers of e-bikes and other e-devices late last year urging them to comply with relevant safety standards due to an uptick in fires.
“Buying cheap after-market parts like batteries can result in stuff like this cause they’re not built with quality,” neighbor Eric Rodriguez, 47, said. “Sometimes buying cheap stuff just doesn’t work.
“It’s really sad to have such a loss over something like a battery,” he said.