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Lithium-ion battery ignites motorcycle

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By Melanie Lekocevic

Capital Region Independent Media

A motorcycle powered by a lithium-ion battery caught on fire in the village Monday, according to fire officials. Courtesy of Ravena Fire Department

RAVENA — A motorcycle powered by a lithium-ion battery caught on fire in the village Monday, according to the Ravena Fire Department.

It is the first fire of its kind in the village, but there have been a rising number of blazes statewide — including hundreds of deaths and injuries — caused by lithium-ion batteries this year, according to fire officials.

On Monday, Dec. 4, around 10 p.m., the fire department responded to a report of a motorcycle that was on fire on Pulver Avenue in the village.

“Upon arrival, the Ravena Fire Department found a motorcycle lying in the street and actively on fire,” Deputy Fire Chief Travis Witbeck said in a statement. “It was reported to the incident commander that the bike was an electric bike powered by lithium-ion batteries and that was where the fire had originated from.”

The first team arriving on the scene was able to extinguish the fire and there were no injuries, Witbeck said.

While this is the first lithium-ion battery related fire in the village and one of only a handful in the Capital Region, there have been many more such fires in the state.

“New York City has combatted hundreds of these fires, resulting in hundreds of injuries and dozens of deaths this year,” Witbeck said.

There are many types of equipment and devices powered by lithium-ion batteries, including smart phones, laptops, scooters, e-bikes, smoke alarms, toys, Bluetooth headphones and even cars, according to New York State Fire Prevention and Control.

These types of batteries store a large amount of energy and can pose a  threat if not handled properly, according to the department.

“Equipment and devices powered by lithium-ion batteries are already prevalent in many people’s lives,” Witbeck said. “As the technology continues to improve, more and more of what we use in the course of our day will be powered by these batteries. As such, so will the risk of fire.”

Lithium-ion batteries can fail or catch on fire largely due to “thermal runaway.”

“This process can occur within the battery if it becomes too hot, and it causes a chain reaction that can ultimately lead to a fire,” Witbeck said. “In addition, thermal runaway can happen if a battery is exposed to abused conditions such as high temperatures, physical abuse or if it is charged improperly.”

It is fortunate the motorcycle fire took place outside, or the blaze could have been deadly, Witbeck added.

There are several possible signs that a lithium-ion battery is at risk of catching fire, according to New York State Fire Prevention and Control.

  • Heat: It is normal for batteries to generate some heat, but if it feels extremely hot to the touch, there is a good chance it is defective.
  • Swelling/bulging: If the battery looks swollen or is bulging, or is leaking, stop using it immediately.
  • Noise: Failing batteries may make hissing, cracking or popping sounds.
  • Odor: A strong or unusual odor coming from the battery may mean toxic fumes are being emitted.
  • Smoke: If the device is smoking, a fire may already have started.

If a device or battery is showing any of these warning signs, you should immediately turn it off and unplug it from the power source. Then you should carefully move it to a safe, isolated area away from anything flammable using gloves or tongs and call 911, according to NYS Fire Prevention and Control.

To prevent lithium-ion battery fires, follow the device manufacturer’s instructions for charging, using and storing it; avoid knockoffs, be careful where you charge the device — not on a pillow, bed or couch; store batteries in a cool, dry place at room temperature (not in direct sunlight); and inspect devices regularly for damage.

“This is the first fire directly caused by malfunctioning lithium-ion batteries that the Village of Ravena Fire Department has faced and we would like to thank the Albany County Fire Coordinator’s Offfice, West Albany Fire Department, Ravena Rescue Squad, Coeymans Police Department, and Albany County Communications Center for their assistance,” Witbeck said.

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