Vancouver News: Batteries responsible for 2 ORS fires

Firefighters responded to two fires at single-room hotels in Vancouver this week, both caused by lithium-ion batteries – a growing concern across the city.

Vancouver Fire Services said the first fire broke out on Monday evening, causing smoke and water damage to several units at the ORS. The second fire broke out a day later at another address.

In both cases, authorities said an e-bike with a lithium battery was charged by a modified or makeshift charger — not the power source provided or recommended by the manufacturer.

“It creates excessive heating and thermal runaway effects in these batteries, and there is so much energy and potential energy inside that they will explode,” Capt. Matthew Trudeau said. “It looks like fireworks, and the effects can be quite devastating.”

Fortunately, sprinkler systems contained both fires to individual SRO units until crews could arrive and finish extinguishing the flames.

Lithium-ion batteries are of growing concern to Vancouver firefighters, who said the city has seen a 500% increase in battery-related 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 Empress Hotel in the Downtown Eastside, killing a man who fell from a window.

Trudeau noted that batteries don’t need to be charged incorrectly to pose a potential hazard.

“They have an inherent risk with them,” he said. “We’ve seen battery fires in laptops, bicycles. We’ve seen them from all kinds of sources – and it’s proving very difficult, and it’s happening at a pretty high rate.”

But the use of modified chargers is particularly risky. Crews found chargers with modified wires or alligator clips attached, so they could power devices they weren’t meant to charge.

Trudeau said he is currently collecting data on battery-related fires in the city — including total damage from lithium-powered devices — to better understand how firefighters and the public can reduce risk.