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FIRE RISK

UK fire services face 46% increase in Lithium-ion battery fires

New research reveals UK fire services attended 46% more fires linked to Lithium-ion batteries in 2023 compared to the previous year.

Fire engine image

CREDIT: Jeffrey Isaac Greenberg 4+/Alamy Stock Photo

Data collected by the business insurer, QBE, suggests the batteries that power electric vehicles such as bikes, scooters and cars, were involved in almost three fires a day last year, compared to under two fires a day in 2022.

QBE approached 50 UK fire safety services through a series of freedom of information requests, of which, 42 responded.

The findings show that nearly a third (29%) of lithium-ion fires involved e-bikes, which accounted for 270 recorded fires in 2023, up from 158 in 2022. Over the same period, fires involving e-scooters rose by 7%.
Fires involving electric cars increased by 33% from 89 nationally in 2022 to 118 in 2023. This does remain a low number compared to the one million electric cars on UK roads.

E-buses

No other country in Europe registers as many electric buses as the UK. The data collected shows fires involving e-buses increased by 22% last year while blazes involving e-trucks quadrupled. However, only seven fire services were able to report on these types of incidents.

Lithium-ion fires materialise from ‘thermal runaway’, a process where batteries start to overheat irreversibly, usually due to impact damage, overcharging or overheating. Their use in electric vehicles is set to increase as society transitions to a net-zero future.

Education is key

Commenting, Adrian Simmonds, practice leader for property risk solutions at QBE is urging for greater public and political awareness. “To help with a safer rollout [of electric vehicles], we are calling for more support for fire services to help improve education in dealing with the new risk profile,” he said. “The UK Government needs to impose more stringent safety requirements to reduce fire frequency. Increasing awareness of proper maintenance, storage and disposal of lithium-ion batteries is paramount to protecting people and property.”

Matt Humby, Senior Technical Consultant at Firechief Global® and author of a recent e-book on the topic, echoed Simmonds’ concerns. “This data confirms what myself, and Firechief Global® have been saying for some time. It really is key that education is moved to a higher level from the fire service to members of the public. This risk will always be with us, but with consistent education, fires can be reduced.”

Find out more

You can download the e-book, Lithium-Ion batteries. A guide to the fire risk that isn’t going away but can be managed, here.

Click here to listen to the joint SHP and IFSEC Insider podcast mini-series on the fire risks of Lithium-ion batteries.

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Martin White
Martin White
21 days ago

And how did the number of fires in petrol or diesel cars fare?

Peter Gotch
Peter Gotch
21 days ago

These numbers are meaningless without context. So how many vehicle fires involving vehicles fuelled by other methods and what increase in E-vehicles in the relevant period?

Andrew Floyd
Andrew Floyd
21 days ago

There is a significant rise in Li-ion battery FLTs. Any data on this?
Have heard that some insurance companies are demanding external charging facilities.

Andrew Ellison
Andrew Ellison
20 days ago

While these percentages seem high and alarming it must be remembered that this is an increases on very low starting numbers and low utilisation of L-Ion batteries. When you look at the number of fires compared to the total number of EV’s out there in use, you are 20 times more likely to encounter a petrol or diesel engine vehicle fire. That is not to say that we still need to educate people in the safe use, storage and charging of batteries and most importantly inspecting them to identify damage, which is the major cause of most thermal runaway events.… Read more »