Amsterdam to campaign on fire safety and electric batteries

Fires caused by electric batteries can be "ferocious" Photo:

Amsterdam council is planning a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers of electric batteries for bikes, scooters and mopeds, which can cause uncontrollable house fires.

The city said it is planning to register these fires separately – which it currently does not do – and will ask electric vehicle sellers to raise awareness of the risks as well as supporting a national public awareness campaign.

There have been at least two fires in the Dutch capital this year caused by lithium ion batteries and fire expert Ynso Suurenbroek has warned that these fires are difficult to predict and to extinguish. Half of the million bicycles sold in 2021 in the Netherlands were electric bikes, and in London and New York, fire brigades for some months been warning of the dangers, after a spate of deadly blazes.

When these batteries are damaged – for example by being dropped – or they begin to fail, they can start “ferocious” fires and spread out of control within minutes, the London Fire Brigade has warned. If they are being charged in a communal space or hall, they can block the escape route.

Water may not stop them from spreading, fire extinguishers do not work on the batteries either and they can enter an “uncontrollable, self-heating state” before exploding, according to the New York City Fire Department.

A fire in Amsterdam Zuid in February was linked to a battery fire in a bike shop and another caused by a battery for a scooter in May spread rapidly to four houses, which were declared temporarily uninhabitable due to the damage.

High time

Amsterdam city council is now planning to take action in response to questions from VVD councillors Daan Wijnants and Claire Martens. “It is high time that this happened,” Wijnants told Dutch News. “Charging electric batteries can be dangerous and people need to be aware of this. We as the VVD will continue to draw attention to the issue.”

Others pointed out that although landlords, for example, have a duty to make sure their properties are fire safe, they may not always provide an emergency exit when there is only one staircase. Escape windows are not always accessible in Amsterdam’s historic housing stock.

“It is only a question of time before things really go wrong,” Suurenbroek told the Parool in May.

Awi Groen, a spokesman for the local branch of the PvdA said: “We believe that all Amsterdammers should live in safe homes and so it is important to make good agreements with housing corporations and private landlords. There is too little being done about [private landlords].”

A campaign by road users organisations BOVAG and RAI Vereniging encourages people with an electric vehicle to ensure the battery is checked regularly by a specialist, especially if it has fallen or been damaged.

It should be charged every three months, with the correct charger in a safe place, always to 100%, the organisations say. In addition, there should be a smoke detector nearby, and people should be cautious about exposing the battery to extreme heat or cold.

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