Faulty batteries could cause fatalities this Christmas

Choosing the wrong electric bike or scooter could be a fatal mistake this Christmas, experts have warned, amid a rising number of house fires caused by faulty batteries.

Authorities have warned lithium-ion battery fires are happening every week and a new wave of damage could be unleashed early next year due to poorly constructed Christmas purchases.

They say the danger could be avoided by investing in reputable, well-made portable mobility devices and using them with care.

The warning follows four e-scooter fires over four days in Perth last week, and after the consumer watchdog found reports of battery fires increased "sixfold" between 2021 and 2023 and called for changes to the industry.

Electric scooters Melbourne
Battery-powered bicycles and scooters have grown in popularity in Australia.

EV FireSafe chief executive Emma Sutcliffe said the popularity of battery-powered bicycles and scooters had "amplified" the problem as opportunistic manufacturers created badly-made, cheaper products to meet demand.

"Fire crews across Australia are seeing one fire at least every fortnight and I don't think there's a fire crew in Australia that hasn't been to a lithium-ion battery fire," she said.

"We will absolutely start to see these things start to fail three to six months after Christmas, and we cross our fingers every year but we will probably see a fatality from lithium-ion battery fires."

Ms Sutcliffe, who trains firefighters and tracks battery fires, told AAP Australia had recorded one death from a lithium-ion battery fire in 2023 but the risks could rise if consumers purchased more risky devices this Christmas.

She recommended consumers only purchase e-bikes from local stores, rather than online businesses, and keep watch for signs of damage, water ingress, swelling, heat or noise from batteries.

"If you hear a loud popping noise, immediately evacuate the area," she said.

"I don't care if it's your bedroom – you get everybody out of that house and you call the fire service for help."

NSW Emergency Services Minister Jihad Dib said firefighters in the state had been attending more than three battery fires every week recently, and urged shoppers not to "cut corners" when choosing products.

Fire and Rescue NSW superintendent Adam Dewberry said consumers should also take care not to disassemble batteries themselves.

"You should only choose reputable brands of lithium-ion batteries and never try to make your own or reconfigure existing batteries," he said.

"The consequences when things go wrong with lithium-ion batteries can be disastrous and potentially life-threatening."

Other precautions included taking care not to overcharge batteries, ensuring they were recharged with the correct cable and in a space clear of flammable items, and disposing of batteries that showed signs of damage.

Ms Sutcliffe said anyone with concerns about a lithium-ion battery should contact their local council or fire service about the best way to dispose of it, and should not place it in a supermarket battery recycling bin.

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