Officials Urge Caution after E-Bike Battery Sparks D.C. House Fire

DC Fire and EMS
Lithium-ion batteries inside an e-bike, which caught fire in a Northwest Washington townhouse.

An e-bike battery burst into flames inside a townhouse in Northwest Washington on Thursday evening, causing a house fire that trapped a resident inside as smoke billowed.

The incident marked the first time in D.C. that a person was injured by an e-bike-ignited fire, according to a spokesperson from the city’s Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department. In other cities, like New York, e-bike battery explosions and resulting fires have killed multiple people.

“They are popular means of transportation,” said Vito Maggiolo, a fire department spokesperson. “We want to see these used safely.”

In a statement on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter, the District’s fire department published photographs of the lithium-ion batteries that caught fire Thursday – advising residents to store e-bikes, e-scooters and batteries away from exit doors and to strictly adhere to charging protocols.

Fire officials were dispatched to the 700 block of Irving Street NW about 6:35 p.m. Thursday, and arrived to find heavy smoke emanating from a two-story townhouse and a man stuck behind a ground-floor door, Maggiolo said.

Firefighters forced their way into the building and extinguished the second-floor fire before it spread to the two adjacent homes, according to Maggiolo. They transported the man to a hospital in serious but stable condition.

A police report shows that one adjacent home sustained damage.

Investigators found that a personal e-bike with a lithium-ion battery stored inside the home had started the fire. Maggiolo said officials have not determined what caused the battery to ignite, but that similar fires have been started by overcharging batteries or using incompatible chargers.

Authorities in New York City have called lithium-ion batteries “uniquely dangerous.” As of Friday, according to a New York City Fire Commissioner spokesperson, there had been 96 injuries and 14 deaths stemming from lithium ion fires this year.

In June, four people were killed by a fire at an e-bike shop on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. Last year, an 8-year-old girl was killed when a e-scooter’s lithium-ion battery exploded in a couple’s living room in Queens. The city has banned the sale of e-bikes and similar devices that do not meet safety standards.

Maggiolo said that the District is less vulnerable to lithium-ion battery fires than a city like New York, where more people use e-bikes and a higher density of people creates more charging risks.

Lithium ion batteries are used for nearly all rechargeable devices, like smartphones, laptops and electric toothbrushes. Safety experts have described their fire risk as small but real, and advised people to purchase products certified as having met safety and testing standards.

Experts have also said it’s generally safe to rent electric bikes and scooters from well-known companies like Lime, which has bikes all over the District. In a statement Friday, a spokesperson for Lime said its batteries were designed to deter fires and were certified to be in compliance with U.S. and E.U. lithium-ion battery requirements.