Patricia Hotel, Aneki Housing for Women, Nora Hendrix Place and the building at 566 Powell St. all suffered damage in the Downtown Eastside
A Vancouver nonprofit housing provider says four of its Downtown Eastside buildings have been damaged by fires in the past three weeks due to issues with people charging lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes.
No injuries were reported in the fires, but in some cases tenants had to be temporarily relocated due to smoke, structural damage and water damage in the buildings, which house low-income people.
The spate of fires worries Janice Abbott, CEO of Atira Group of Women Serving Services, who said it was the first time the agency had been hit by fires caused by the batteries, which also power scooters and cars. other devices such as cell phones.
“We have one fire every four days in our portfolio, but these four in the past three weeks are the first we know of that have been caused by lithium-ion batteries,” Abbott said, noting that the agency has recently banned batteries. tenant rooms, but acknowledged that the policy is difficult to enforce.
“It’s better than doing nothing, but the reality is that we probably won’t be able to enforce it 100% because we’re not going to be searching people’s backpacks every time they come in. This would probably be a human rights issue at some point.”
“These Things Explode”
The most recent fire occurred early Wednesday at an Aneki Housing for Women suite at 535 Powell St., where a guest of the tenant was charging an electric bicycle. Staff were seen removing the charred and twisted bike from the building later that morning.
Abbott’s information from staff was that the guest was not charging the bike’s stock or standard battery, which is consistent with the Vancouver Fire Department’s concern that fires occur largely because chargers are modified or batteries have been altered from their original condition.
In June, a man identified by residents as Shayne Charleson died after a lithium-ion battery exploded in his room at the Empress Hotel near Main and Hastings streets. Charleson fell to his death in the aisle below.
Capt. Matthew Trudeau, public information officer for the Vancouver Fire Department, said there have been a total of five battery-related fire deaths this year. Trudeau didn’t have all the locations before the deadline, but said the trend was for firefighters.
“We see them a lot in ORS where people modify these chargers and then when it gets this incorrect voltage it causes it to overheat, short circuit and then these things explode,” Trudeau said, noting that firefighters contacted the housing operators. on the dangers of batteries.
“So people are modifying chargers, but we’re also seeing a high frequency with only failing lithium-ion batteries.”
The other three battery-related fires reported by Atira occurred at the Patricia Hotel at 403 East Hastings St., a small housing complex at 566 Powell St. and the Nora Hendrix temporary modular housing building at 258 Union St. .
The Patricia fire was reported late Monday evening. Four people have been temporarily relocated from seven rooms due to damage to the building, which housed many former residents of the Strathcona homeless encampment.
A tenant “shaken” by a fire
During the Aneki fire, the tenant was moved to a vacant space in the building until her room could be cleaned and deemed safe to occupy. Electricians were at the building Wednesday to inspect the suite for damage.
Taylor Bawn of Lux Electric said there was minor damage to the area where the bike was charged and to the electrical panel. Water damage, Bawn said, was evident on the floors below the second-floor suite.
“Water tends to seep everywhere when they take these things out,” he said from the sidewalk outside the building. “There’s a lot of standing water in the hallways and stuff like that.”
Bawn added: ‘I saw the tenant and she seemed fine. Just a little shaken from having to move all her things, which were all wet.
Bawn said he and his colleague, Max Chambers, had recently responded to other calls in Vancouver and Surrey about fires caused by lithium-ion batteries, mostly in modular housing and single-bedroom buildings.
“I would say mostly because of scooters and bikes,” Bawn said. “I don’t know if it’s the batteries getting so hot they melt the charger and then start the fire, or what’s going on. But yeah, those are the ones [electric] bicycles and scooters which are the cause.
The shift in recent years to people using electric bikes and scooters is noticeable all over Vancouver, especially along the bike paths. Chambers noted that he had just purchased an electric scooter, but said he was not worried about it exploding or catching fire.
“It’s a top of the line Segway Ninebot and Segway has been around for a long time, and I trust their company and hope my apartment doesn’t burn down,” he said.
198 ORS fires in Vancouver this year
Abbott said his staff had researched whether steel boxes would be available for battery charging, noting that bicycles and scooters are a mode of transportation for some tenants.
She also suggested that the City of Vancouver provide safe and secure storage for bicycles and electric scooters, especially in older, single-occupancy, overcrowded, wood-built buildings; Vancouver Fire Services says 198 fires have occurred in ORS this year, although data was not available on the number of battery-related fires.
In the meantime, all Atira buildings have put up large fire department signs that warn of the dangers associated with batteries, including warning people to be sure to use the battery designed for the device and not to modify the battery.