‘My world fell apart when my daughter died in an e-bike fire on New Year’s Day’
The mum of a 21-year-old woman who died earlier this year has made a heartfelt plea to Londoners to be careful with their e-bikes and e-scooters and to never block fire escape routes.
Maria Frasquilho Macarro has issued this warning following the death of her only daughter, Sofia Duarte, who died on New Year’s Day after a flat fire on Old Kent Road in South Bermondsey.
The fire broke out in the afternoon of Monday, January 1 in the flat hallway, blocking the residents’ fire escape route.
Fire investigators found a bicycle had been converted into an e-bike and the bike’s lithium battery pack had failed catastrophically, causing the fire.
Maria’s plea comes as London Fire Brigade launches its #ChargeSafe campaign to help people use e-bikes and e-scooters safely and to inform people of the dangers of charging, storing and modifying the vehicles and their batteries.
Maria, who is originally from Portugal and brought her daughter Sofia up in west London, says that her world fell apart when she found out her daughter had died.
Maria said: “Sofia loved life, she loved to party and she enjoyed her job working behind the bar at a nightclub. Now all I have left is my daughter’s ashes.
“I really want to make sure her death is not in vain and if I can raise awareness about the dangers of e-bikes and lithium batteries then there will be a positive in this.
"If we can save someone else’s life, I will take great comfort in that because at the moment I am hurting - I don’t want others to suffer as much as I have done.
“Sofia meant the world to me and my family.
"I don’t know how to live without her.
"It feels like a nightmare and I can’t wake up.”
This follows a rise in the number of fires described by LFB as “extremely serious” involving lithium batteries commonly used with these modes of transport.
So far this year, on average, LFB has been called out to an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days.
This is a 60 per cent increase in the rate of these fires that took place at this time of year in 2022.
London Fire Brigade’s Deputy Commissioner, Dom Ellis, said: “Sofia’s death is a tragedy, and our condolences are with her family and friends.
“We are working hard to prevent these types of incidents in the future.
“E-bikes and e-scooters are becoming more common in London and the risk of significant fires is rising too.
“We want people to travel safely and be aware of the risks that the batteries present as part of our #ChargeSafe campaign.
“Protect yourself and your loved ones by following our #ChargeSafe tips and by using our Home Fire Safety Checker.
“Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters.
“The only way to be sure of a legal, safe and reliable e-bike is to buy one in complete form, from a trusted and reputed retailer.
“The number of incidents our fire crews are attending shows that buying a product from a reputable seller will help protect you, your family and property from bursting into flames - not forgetting the peace of mind it can give.”
A spokesperson for London Fire Brigade said: “The mother of a 21-year-old woman who died at the start of 2023 has made a heartfelt plea to Londoners to take care with e-bikes and e-scooters, particularly to never block fire escape routes.
“Maria Frasquilho Macarro’s warning comes following the tragic death of her only daughter, Sofia Duarte, who sadly died on New Year’s Day in a flat fire on Old Kent Road, in South Bermondsey.
“Fire investigators believe the cause of the fire is due to a converted e-bike’s battery bursting into flames in the entrance to the flat Sofia lived in.
“Her plea comes as the Brigade launches its #ChargeSafe campaign, to help people safely use e-bikes and e-scooters and inform people about the dangers of charging, storing and modifying the vehicles and their batteries.
“This follows an increasing rise in the number of extremely serious fires involving lithium batteries which are commonly used with these modes of transport.
“So far this year, on average, London Fire Brigade has been called to an e-bike or e-scooter fire once every two days – a 60 per cent increase in the rate of these fires compared to the same period as last year. In 2022, we attended 87 e-bike and 29 e-scooter fires, a total of 116 fires.
“Conversion kits allow people to add an electric motor to their bikes but not all of them are sold with a battery.
“Cheaper batteries purchased from online sources which don’t necessarily adhere to UK safety regulations are more likely to fail and present an increased fire risk.
“While there was no evidence of poor installation in this case, DIY installations can also lead to damage of the kit, increasing the chances of battery failure and the likelihood of a fire.
“Ordinarily the Brigade is unable to talk about cases while Coroner’s court processes are ongoing.
“However, due the severity of this incident, special permission was granted to raise awareness of the fire risks and to prevent future deaths.
“Lithium batteries store a significant amount of energy in a very small space and are much more powerful compared to other types of batteries.
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“If that energy is released in an uncontrolled way, then a fire or explosion may result.
“If there is overheating, crushing, penetrating or overcharging, then a fault can occur within damaged battery cells which may cause the battery to catch fire and/or explode.”
#ChargeSafe campaign safety tips for e-bike and e-scooter users from London Fire Brigade:
Never block your escape route with anything, including e-bikes and e-scooters
Store them somewhere away from a main through route. LFB’s advice is to store these items in a safe location if possible, such as a garage or a shed.
Check your battery and charger meets UK safety standards.
Watch out for signs that the battery or charger aren’t working as they should – if it’s hot to the touch or has changed shape.
Always use the correct charger and buy an official one from a reputable seller.
LFB has particular concern where batteries have been purchased from online marketplaces and when they've been sourced on the internet, which may not meet the correct safety standards.
Let the battery cool before charging.
Batteries can get warm during their use and it is advisable to allow them to cool down before attempting to re-charge as they could be more susceptible to failure. If you are charging batteries indoors, please follow LFB’s advice on safe charging.
Unplug your charger once it’s finished charging.
Always follow manufacturers’ instructions when charging and LFB would advise not to leave it unattended or while people are asleep.
Fit alarms where you charge. Ensure you have smoke alarms fitted in areas where e-bikes or e-scooters are being charged and make sure they are tested regularly.