An experiment by national fire experts started by showing an e-scooter in a bedroom.

Nothing appeared to be happening on the surface, but inside the electric components of the bike, heat and energy were rapidly rising out of control.

Smoke billows from the bike after several seconds. After 15 seconds, the bike exploded, and the room was engulfed in flames.

They’re causing destruction, devastation and death.

What You Need To Know

  • Hundreds of fires in New York City have started because of an e-bike or e-scooter over the past few years

  • Researchers have been investigating ways to slow the rapid speed these fires spread

  • Lawmakers are taking action to ensure e-bikes and e-scooters sold in the city have specific certifications

Fires charring homes and businesses that start primarily with the lithium-ion battery in e-bikes and e-scooters.

They’re the same type of batteries in cars, phones, computers.

From 2019 to 2022, there’s been a more than 1,000% increase in injuries from fires that started with an e-bike or e-scooter, and there’s been a more than 600% increase in the fires themselves.

Last year, six people died in fires started with lithium-ion batteries in New York City.

Meanwhile, this year, five people have already died, including a seven-year-old boy in early April.

“Modern home fires based on the way fire spreads on upholstered furniture. You tend to only have a few minutes for time to escape when a fire starts in your home,” said Adam Barowy, a research engineer at UL Fire Safety Research Institute. “With what we’ve seen from e-bike thermal runaways, that can be less than a minute for time to escape.”

FSRI investigates all things fire, and the organization has partnered with FDNY to look specifically at what’s causing these fires to be within e-bikes and scooters.  

“What’s happening is you start to have some chemical reactions inside the cell that give off heat and the more heat it gives off, the more chemical reactions happen,” Barowy explained. “That speeds up and the temperature increases so quickly that it can’t be controlled.”

He said they don’t need to be on to catch fire and it’s happening seemingly more than other products with lithium-ion batteries for a reason.

“Some are designed well and evaluated for safety and others are just kind of coming in and being sold for much cheaper than those,” he said.

In December, the federal government’s Consumer Product Safety Commission sent a letter to more than 2,000 manufacturers, imploring them to meet safety standards and urging them to review their product line immediately.

CPSC would not tell NY1 how many of them are responsible for creating bikes and scooters that are fire hazards.

There has been increased attention in the city, with public service announcements about safety.

In November, all New York City landlords had to post safety signage for the bikes and scooters.

Mayor Eric Adams signed five regulations into law in March, including requiring e-bikes and e-scooters to meet specific safety standards.

Last month, the City Council announced it was considering even more legislation, including ways to reduce the cost of lithium-ion batteries.  

Now the research continues at the Fire Safety Research Institute to see if sprinklers can help fight the rapid spread of these e-bike and e-scooter fires.

“Because if they don’t then there’s some head-scratching to do in the fire safety industry about how we can meaningfully provide protection given that we have the built in environment as it is around us and a very new hazard being introduced that wasn’t there when we designed all of our safety codes,” said Barowy.