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Two Dead in NYCHA Housing Blaze Ignited by Exploding E-bike Battery, Officials Say

For years, NYCHA management ignored a 2018 DOI recommendation to ban lithium-ion battery powered devices in public housing. Three people, including a 5-year-old girl today, have been killed in related fires since.

SHARE Two Dead in NYCHA Housing Blaze Ignited by Exploding E-bike Battery, Officials Say

An e-bike near a NYCHA building at 334 East 28th Street, July 5, 2022.

Hiram Alejandro Durán/THE CITY

A 5-year-old girl and a 36-year-old woman were killed by a fire inside a public housing apartment in Harlem that officials believe was caused by the exploding battery of an electric scooter. The blaze, which ignited in the pre-dawn hours of Wednesday, also seriously injured the girl’s father.

The tragedy marks the second and third fatalities in public housing caused by the volatile lithium-ion batteries that power e-bikes, scooters and hoverboards and that NYCHA is now considering banning from its 177,000 apartments. Last December, a tenant died in a fire caused by a battery at the Jacob Riis Houses in Lower Manhattan.

A fire department official said that an electric scooter, an e-bike and a hoverboard were all stored inside the East 129th St. apartment in the Jackie Robinson Houses by its entry door, so when the fire erupted shortly before 2:30 a.m. the child and two adults couldn’t escape. A firefighter was also transported to a hospital, officials said.

As THE CITY has reported, then-Department of Investigation Commissioner Margaret Garnett advised NYCHA management to ban these battery-driven devices from their properties back in 2018 after a fire at a Brooklyn development did serious damage to a hallway where a scooter was being stored.

More than three years later, NYCHA still didn’t accept DOI’s suggestion. 

It wasn’t until April 2020 that the agency got around to beginning the process of adopting such a ban. And it wasn’t until this May when they began seeking public comment on it. After THE CITY raised questions about the proposed ban in July, NYCHA Chairperson Gregory Russ extended the public comment period.

On Wednesday NYCHA spokesperson Rochel Leah Goldblatt stated, “To prevent fires and preserve the health and safety of residents, NYCHA is considering the adoption of a new policy that would prohibit e-bikes and e-bike batteries in its public housing buildings, including apartments and common areas. This proposed new policy has been extended for public comment until September 6, 2022, at which time NYCHA will review and consider stakeholder feedback before issuing a final policy.”

There have been at least 26 lithium ion fire investigations by the FDNY in NYCHA buildings since 2021, reflecting a similar pattern that’s emerged in private apartment buildings citywide.

According to the fire department, the number of lithium battery fires is on the rise citywide, with 121 investigations so far this year that have resulted in 66 injuries and five deaths. That has surpassed the 104 battery fire investigations in all of 2021 when there were 79 injuries and four deaths, officials said.

In fact on Monday there was yet another fatal fire caused by the battery of an e-bike stored inside an apartment on Townsend Avenue in Mount Eden, The Bronx. That fire resulted in the death of a tenant and serious injury to a firefighter, officials said.

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