The Massachusetts Department of Fire Services identified 50 lithium-ion battery fires in 38 communities in the state over the past six months, more than double the annual average documented by a national fire reporting system. In October, the state agency provided a checklist for investigators to collect basic information about fires in which lithium-ion batteries were a factor. The database found that lithium-ion batteries were involved in far more fires than what the national system showed. From 2019 to 2023, an average of 19.4 lithium-ion battery fires were reported each year to the state’s Fire Incident Reporting System. The increase could be linked to the growing number of electronic devices powered by such batteries, increased awareness by local fire investigators, or other factors. If the batteries are overcharged or overheated, they can erupt in an explosion of toxic gases and flames that are very difficult to control due to their intense heat. Water and traditional fire extinguishers are far less effective against lithium-ion battery fires.

In August, an electric car parked in a driveway in Wareham spontaneously burst into flames, forcing firefighters to douse the charred vehicle with 11,000 gallons of water over three hours. Firefighters thought they had put the initial blaze out in a half-hour, but it reignited. The firefighters used specially designed hose nozzles for electric vehicles, which helped spray water all over the battery. Because the electric vehicle was already charged, it appeared that the fire started spontaneously. The electric vehicle was parked in the driveway, so less damage occurred than if the vehicle was parked under someone’s home or in their garage where the damage could have been transmitted to the entire structure.

Lithium-ion batteries power everything from small devices such as iPhones to electric scooters, electric bikes, and electric cars and the fires seem to spread among all the devices. Nine of the 50 fires involved devices such as scooters, e-bikes, and hoverboards. Eight involved laptops and another eight involved cell phones, tablets, or similar devices. Power tools were involved in six fires. More than half of the devices were not charging when they caught fire. The state urged people to take a number of precautions with lithium-ion batteries, including:

  • having working smoke alarms on every level of a home;
  • using only a device’s original batteries and charging equipment as opposed to mixing and matching with chargers for other items;
  •  charging batteries from wall outlets rather than extension cords;
  • charging only one device at a time and unplugging them when they are fully charged, and
  • storing scooters and e-bikes outside when possible.

In large cities like New York and San Francisco, fires caused by rechargeable batteries, including lithium-ion batteries, have been on the rise. Fire departments in these cities have responded to at least 669 incidents combined since 2019. Last year, New York City reported over 200 fires attributed to lithium-ion batteries. In 2022, most of New York’s rechargeable battery-related fires caused structural damage. In San Francisco, about a third of such fires also led to structural damage. Since 2019 the New York City recorded 326 injuries related to these types of fires, while San Francisco recorded 7 in the same period. San Francisco implemented a new code specific to lithium-ion batteries in March of 2024.

Recently, authorities evacuated an area of Columbus, Ohio for several hours because a fire in a truck’s trailer could cause lithium-ion batteries to explode. The evacuation was ordered because the batteries can burn very rapidly and explode. While the fire was discovered at around 6 a.m., the back of the smoking trailer was not opened until around 9 a.m. because authorities were determining the best way to extinguish the blaze. Firefighters were still battling the blaze as of late morning.

Unregulated aftermarket chargers, which are not required to be certified, contribute to the fire problem. Overcharging batteries can cause them to malfunction, overheat, and combust. The risk increases with the number of cells in the battery pack. Because electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles have about 1,000 times more cells than an e-bike, they are more susceptible to fires.

In response to a deadly fire in a New York e-bike shop, the city council passed bills to strengthen fire safety that restrict the sale, lease, or rental of powered mobility devices and storage batteries that fail to meet safety standards set by Underwriters Laboratories. Nationally, the Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act aims to set nationwide guidelines for protecting people and first responders from battery-related fires.


Lithium-ion battery fires have become a growing concern, particularly for electric vehicles, e-bikes, and buses. These rechargeable batteries can pose significant risks to both safety and property. Firefighters face challenges when dealing with lithium-ion battery fires due to their high temperatures and unique characteristics, requiring specialized training and equipment since traditional fire-fighting equipment and techniques are less effective. Awareness, regulation, and proper handling are key to minimizing risks and ensuring public safety. This is increasingly important as the Biden Administration is pushing for more electrification via regulation and mandates.

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