BY THE VILLAGE SUN | In another tragic, deadly, apparent e-bike battery fire, four people were killed and two severely injured after an intense blaze exploded early Tuesday morning in an e-bike sales and repair store in the Two Bridges neighborhood on the Lower East Side.
According to officials and news reports, the fire broke out in HQ E-Bike Repair, in the ground-floor storefront at 80 Madison St., around 12:15 a.m. Smoke rapidly engulfed the entire six-story residential building.
One hundred thirty-three firefighters responded to the scene, bringing the blaze under control by around 2:30 a.m.
Six residents were removed in critical condition to area hospitals, including Bellevue, Weill Cornell and New York-Presbyterian Lower Manhattan.
The deceased include a 62-year-old woman and a 71-year old man — whose names have not been publicly released pending family notification — and two unidentified individuals, a woman and a man. The cause of death was reportedly smoke inhalation.
Listed in critical condition are two residents, a 65-year-old woman and an 80-year-old man.
One firefighter, one E.M.T. medic and one civilian suffered minor injuries.
After firefighters had extinguished the inferno, piles of blackened e-scooters and e-bikes and wheels and tires were left on the street outside.
The fire marshal will determine the cause of the fire. The investigation is ongoing.
According to NY1, Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh, who spoke at a news conference at the scene Tuesday morning, the site was “known” to the Fire Department, which had written up the e-bike for several violations.
“Dan Flynn, the F.D.N.Y.’s chief fire marshal, said the department inspected the property in August 2022 and issued F.D.N.Y. summonses. The owners of the shop were found guilty in court, Flynn said, and forced to pay a $1,600 fine,” NY1 reported. “The violations related to improper charging of lithium-ion batteries and the number of batteries stored at the location… . The department also found violations related to the electrical wiring… .”
So far in 2023, lithium-ion batteries — including Tuesday’s fire on Catherine Street — have caused 108 fires, leading to 13 deaths and 66 injuries, Fire officials said.
Fire caused by the e-bike batteries literally “explode,” Mayor Adams has said, and they spread faster and are harder for firefighters to put out.
The Associated Press reported that a man who said he was the shop’s owner claimed that he “made his usual checks” of the store before he left Monday night, and denied any e-bike batteries were being charged inside.
“The shop has been there for six years. I check before I leave every night,” the man, who spoke in Mandarin in a phone interview and only gave his last name, Liu, told the AP. “I checked last night, turned off the power besides the ones for the monitor and automatic door.”
Not all e-bike batteries that are currently being used in New York City are UL-certified, which increases the chance of fires. Aftermarket and refurbished batteries are reportedly the culprit in most of the e-bike blazes.
In the tragedy’s wake, City Councilmember Christopher Marte, who represents Lower Manhattan’s District 1, demanded delivery apps provide “safe bikes” for their workers.
“The delivery apps that promise impossibly fast delivery times need to be held properly accountable for these e-bike fires and the lives lost,” he stressed. “It is abundantly obvious that these massive companies should provide safe bikes to their workers, instead of relying on their immigrant workforce to purchase their own. This is the only way we will see the dangerous bikes off of the streets, and be able to enforce a regulated industry. The deaths, injuries and displacement of our neighbors are a direct result of these apps’ greed and their blatant disregard for safe working conditions for the delivery workers and for all New Yorkers. Enough is enough.”
The councilmember said his office will work to help the displaced families. In addition, he warned, in general, of patterns of theft in fire-damaged buildings and of landlords failing to complete post-fire repairs expeditiously.
“I am devastated by the loss of four of our neighbors,” Marte said. “I and my office are prepared to assist their families through this unimaginable time. I was on the scene early this morning and spoke with residents and city agencies on the scene. The entire building has been vacated, and the agencies are still assessing the extent of the damage.
“It is critical for residents of the building to know of a disturbing pattern emerging after recent fires in Chinatown,” he added. “In every instance, immediately following the fire, the building has been robbed. Tenants who have already had their lives turned upside down by the fire experience further trauma by having their surviving possessions stolen. I have already spoken with the 5th Precinct and they will be closely monitoring the scene. I encourage all tenants once they gain access to the building to immediately remove all their valuables and important documents.
“The second pattern is months, or over a year, of displacement due to landlords not completing the repairs they have to for tenants to return home,” Marte said. “City regulation is lacking or unenforceable — tenants are given a date by which they should be allowed back home, the date passes, and nobody is held accountable. These fires accelerate the displacement crisis Chinatown is facing, and cut residents off from their often rent-stabilized and affordable homes. We will continue to work diligently to assist those impacted by this tragedy.”
For her part, Susan Lee, a candidate for District 1 in the June 27 Democratic primary election, in a statement, called for “a crackdown” on dangerous e-bike batteries.
She urged the city to “step up battery-exchange programs to get dangerous batteries off the streets,” and to ban e-bike stores from being located in residential buildings.
“The lack of safety standards and enforcement has endangered far too many residents, in this case within my district, and requires a coordinated effort to strengthen regulations and, at a minimum, enforce existing regulations,” Lee said.
“Allowing these types of facilities in residential buildings is a recipe for disaster,” she declared.
In addition, Lee accused Marte of not signing onto a package of City Council bills approved this March that were aimed at improving safety and regulation of e-bikes and e-scooters and lithium-ion batteries, specifically addressing the batteries’ fire dangers.
She also slammed the Fire Department for “citing” dangerous e-bike stores — yet doing nothing about them.
“The F.D.N.Y. recently cited many e-bike stores in the district, but they have been allowed to continue operating,” Lee said.
The candidate promised, if elected, to track enforcement of Councilman Keith Powers’s bill to establish a battery trade-in program for exchanging fire-prone lithium-ion batteries for ones with established safety standards.
She also joined Councilmember Gale Brewer’s call for the federal government to ban the sale of dangerous batteries for e-bikes and e-scooters.
Lee added that it’s marginalized and immigrant communities of color that suffer the most from dangerous e-bike batteries, whether as workers riding vehicles powered by them or residents of buildings where the batteries are recharged.