Multiple fires in the City of Berkeley were caused by lithium batteries left unattended while charging. Easy preventative actions reduce risks. Call 9-1-1 for battery fires from these devices.
Know how to safely care for, replace, and re-charge lithium batteries—increasingly common in household devices but also the cause of at least six recent fires in Berkeley when left charging unattended.
These local battery fires—involving e-skateboards, e-scooters, and at least one e-bike—have also been seen around the region and nation. Simple tips can help keep you and your household safe:
- Use the original manufacturers’ chargers, batteries, or replacements.
- Charge for only as long as it takes to reach a full charge, then disconnect from power source.
- Protect your battery while charging and storing it away from extreme heat, cold, and other flammable items.
- Help prevent fires and reduce risks to people, property, and buildings by identifying distressed batteries (swollen, dented, or otherwise damaged) and discarding them safely at a drop-off site—not in your garbage can.
Acting quickly during lithium battery emergencies can help ensure everyone’s safety. If a fire breaks out, evacuate the area and call 9-1-1.
“Electric bikes, scooters, and other devices are important to building sustainable transportation in our community,” said Berkeley Fire Chief Dave Sprague. “As these and other devices become an increasing part of our lives, we also want to be smart in how we use and take care of them.”
Use only the manufacturers’ chargers, batteries, or replacement parts
Use devices, batteries, and parts certified by nationally recognized testing labs, which will have a label from the testing lab and are expected to operate safely under normal use.
Batteries tested by nationally recognized testing labs have been thoroughly tested for electric shock and fire safety.
Always read the device and lithium battery care instructions and charge all devices according to the manufacturer’s instructions using only genuine manufacturer parts.
Verify the label on your battery is from a lab on the official list of nationally recognized testing labs.
How to safely charge your battery
Lithium batteries have the potential to overheat, short circuit, or catch fire due to chain reaction that causes heat buildup from overcharging or overheating. These hazards increase when batteries wear out or when multiple devices are stored together. Use the safety tips below when charging e-mobility devices like electric bikes, skateboards, or scooters to reduce the risk of electrical fires.
- Charge your battery safely in an open space, away from exits, hallways, and flammable objects, and disconnect from the power source once fully charged.
- Protect your battery by storing it at room temperature, away from extreme hot or cold sources.
- Stop use of any worn batteries, with defects such as swelling dents or any possible water damage and replace parts only with genuine manufacturer parts.
- Plug device directly into an electrical wall outlet instead of using extension cords.
- Isolate batteries from each other and other flammable or explosive materials to prevent chemical reactions.
Recognizing an overheating battery and responding to a fire
Fires from lithium batteries can release toxic fumes and spread incredibly fast. Fire extinguishers are often not effective in putting out electrical fires. An overheating battery might make odd sounds such as gurgling, sizzling, popping, and hissing or release chemical or gassy fumes and odors.
Know what signs to look for when charging or storing your lithium batteries.
- Changes in color or shape of battery from its normal size and shape
- Odd sounds and temperature changes resulting in battery becoming extremely hot
- Any leaking, odd odors, smoke, sparks, and flames released when charging
Fires can occur spontaneously while charging. Do not touch a battery or device once you notice smoke, gas, sparks, or if a fire has started. Instead, evacuate the area or go outside and call 9-1-1 immediately.
Recycle and dispose of lithium batteries safely
Lithium battery contents are highly toxic, dangerous, and flammable and should be treated with care. Some lithium batteries are classified as hazardous waste, while others can be discarded by taking them to battery recycling centers.
If batteries are swollen, dented, or otherwise damaged in any way, they should be disposed of immediately through Stop Waste.
From charging lithium batteries to disposal, use simple tips to reduce the risk of fire. Follow manufacturer and device instructions, use safety tips, and notice early signs of battery stress. Once a fire has started from a lithium battery or device, immediately call 9-1-1.
- Multilingual Lithium Battery Safety Flyer (New York Fire Department)
- Lithium batteries and fire protection (National Fire Sprinkler Association)
- Videos on Lithium battery fires
- Verify Battery Safety with list of recognized testing labs (U.S. Fire Administration)
- Alameda County battery disposal locations (stopwaste.org)