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Image of the outside of the Shadwell fire station in Tower Hamlets

Lithium batteries spark alarm as Tower Hamlets records the most fires in 2023

Tower Hamlets has claimed the undesirable title of the London borough with the highest number of recorded fires in 2023 as e-scooter and e-bike battery fires have sparked alarm.

Last year, Tower Hamlets recorded 5,743 incidents, of those 766 were fires, 2,374 were special services such as flooding or business callouts, and 2,603 were false alarms. 

The statistics prompted concerns due to a disturbing trend of e-bike and e-scooter fires, with lithium batteries at the centre of the alarming statistics. 

The London Fire Brigade responded to 22 lithium battery fires in Tower Hamlets alone, resulting in one fatality. 

Tower Hamlet’s Fire Brigade Borough Commander Richard Tapp said: “It is the most significant and worrying trend across the world if I’m honest. 

“In Tower Hamlets, we have more fires caused by that than any other borough as well.”

On average, the London Fire Brigade was summoned to an e-bike or e-scooter fire every two days throughout London in 2023 said Tapp, marking a significant cause for alarm.

The spate of e-transport battery fires has encouraged the #ChargeSafe campaign from the London Fire Brigade. 

#ChargeSafe aims to provide crucial advice to residents who own e-bikes or e-scooters on how to enhance home fire safety measures to avoid lithium battery fires.

Tapp’s advice on the best way to keep safe is to educate yourself. 

#ChargeSafe’s advice urges people to:

  • Don’t block your exit with charging batteries or e-bikes and e-scooters. If a fire breaks out, you won’t be able to leave your home safely. Store them in a shed or garage where possible
  • Use the correct charger for your battery and make sure to buy from a reputable seller
  • Never leave your battery to charge when you are out or whilst you sleep
  • Make sure your battery and charger meet UK safety standards

You can read the rest of the London Fire Brigade’s advice here.

While lithium batteries are causing panic, the primary causes of fires in Tower Hamlets during 2023 were cooking incidents, especially during the evening hours, improper disposal of smoking materials such as cigarettes, and electrical supply-related fires.

Tapp’s response to their borough’s stats was that it’s nice to be number one, but not on these sorts of things.

Given Tower Hamlets’ status as the UK’s most densely populated local authority, experiencing rapid population growth and high-rise living, the risks of fires are amplified due to increased waste, cooking, electrical appliance usage, and candle usage.

According to the London Fire Brigade, 60% of Tower Hamlet’s 310,300 population live on the fifth floor or higher. 

Tapp recommends using the London Fire Brigade’s Home Fire Safety Checker to evaluate fire risks in homes.

The checker walks you through a questionnaire which then gives the home a fire safety score. The score then determines the best course of action by giving bespoke advice.

A home fire safety visit carried out by firefighters or specialists may be required or instructions on how to improve fire dangers yourself could be all that is needed. 

Being educated on how to spot and fix fire dangers in the house is the best way to prevent fires and keep yourself and your loved ones safe. 

Last year was a busy one for the London Fire Brigade with more than 125,000 incidents across the city.

These incidents include fires, special services such as flooding or business callouts, and false alarms.

Yet 2023 saw a 16.5% decrease in fires compared to 2022, more than three thousand fewer.

Tower Hamlets saw more than a five percent decrease in fires.

While fluctuations in fire incidents occur year-on-year, Tapp hopes the decrease can be attributed to providing better fire safety education and being proactive in the community.

He added: “If we’ve got an opportunity to speak to someone or to make their lives a little bit better, let’s do that, that is our objective; why we get out of bed.”

After a fire, Tapp’s crews will revisit the area and check in with residents, offering advice and seeking any further information they have to explain the recent fire.

An encouraging overall decrease in London’s fire incidents underscores the crucial role of proactive measures in mitigating fire risks and ensuring the well-being of residents.

Featured image credit: Robin Stott and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

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