Increase in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries

Increase in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries

The City of Montreal has observed a dramatic rise in the number of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries over the past year. This phenomenon could be attributed to the growing popularity of electric bikes and scooters that are more and more observable on the city streets especially those of Park Extension where a scooter often presents an easier transportation alternative in the boroughs crowded streets.

According to the 2022 Activity Report by the Montreal Fire Department, 24 fires were caused by lithium-ion batteries, although no further details were provided. The document emphasizes, however, that “improper use of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries, which are increasingly present in cell phones, tablets, laptops, electric scooters, etc., can lead to fires.”

This represents a significant increase compared to 2021 when only 7 fires attributed to lithium-ion batteries were reported. Between 2018 and 2020, a total of 17 such fires were recorded within the city of Montreal, averaging 5.6 per year.

Fires caused by electric scooters or bikes are indeed spectacular and challenging to extinguish. “It’s a fire that is very difficult to put out. It requires a substance that will cool down the battery; water alone is not enough,” explains Jacques Bourdeau, a safety engineer, in a media interview.

Their ideal application is in small electronic devices. The more we push for larger devices, the greater the risks involved. In the case of electric vehicles, Mr. Bourdeau remarks that the risk can be better managed because the battery elements are not necessarily concentrated in the same location, unlike a scooter, for example, where everything is stored in a confined space.

According to Jacques Bourdeau, the risk is higher if a lithium-ion battery is discharged below a certain threshold. “It shouldn’t be discharged too low,” he says, without specifying the exact threshold. However, he believes the responsibility should lie with the manufacturers, suggesting that there should be a warning, for example, when a scooter battery reaches a critical level.

Although electric scooters are technically prohibited from circulating in Quebec, these types of vehicles have become increasingly popular in recent years.

Stable fire statistics

In 2022, the Montreal Fire Department (SIM) recorded 1303 building fires, including 304 major fires. This represents a slightly higher figure than in 2021 (1245 fires, including 278 major fires), but lower than in 2020 (1385 fires, including 317 major fires). Twelve people lost their lives in fires in Montreal in 2022, one less than in 2021.

Notably, over 20% of fires caused by kitchen equipment occurred in the boroughs of Côte-des-Neiges–Notre-Dame-de-Grâce and Villeray–Saint-Michel–Parc-Extension.

The SIM also responded to over 118 emergency calls, including medical emergencies, triggered alarm systems, and, of course, building fires. In the vast majority of cases (85%), fires are caused by human error or the improper use of equipment. The report indicates that nearly 40% of fires start in the kitchen, and “one in four fires is caused by smoking materials or open flames.”