Mackinac Island fire chief concerned after 4 e


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Jul 22, 2023

Mackinac Island fire chief concerned after 4 e

A string of four e-bike battery fires on Mackinac Island, including one that

A string of four e-bike battery fires on Mackinac Island, including one that landed two firefighters in the hospital, has the fire chief investigating causes and risk to historic properties on the island.

The latest fire was Tuesday.

"I'm tracking the origins of these fires and trying to come up with what kind of batteries they are, what condition they're in when they burn," Mackinac Island Fire Chief Jason St. Onge told the Free Press on Thursday. "As of now, we can't find any direct correlation."

So far, he said four known e-bike battery fires have occurred under different circumstances on the island:

The fire chief met with island business owners in late April to warn them about the potential threat of electric bike battery fires, urging them to take action to reduce the threat to iconic buildings.

"These are all lithium-ion batteries," St. Onge said Thursday, still mystified that people aren't more concerned about fire safety and battery risk near wooden structures on the historic island. "It's like you're trying to convince me that it's OK to store gasoline in your house."

When lithium-ion batteries and other high energy density batteries are charged too long, overused, damaged in any way, improperly stored, poorly made or incorrectly refurbished, they may cause fast-spreading fires, according to Consumer Reports and the city of New York websites.

It is essential people exercise extreme care with these batteries, St. Onge said. "Let's be clear: You don't have four fires in 10 months and then just stop. You hope they do but it's not responsible to take that position. I can't run the fire department on hope."

After a Free Press article published May 2, he said he received calls and emails and Facebook messages from fire chiefs around Michigan applauding his proactive approach to concerns fire officials have expressed privately.

"The article raised awareness, in general, around the state," St. Onge said.

In a three-page letter dated May 8, and obtained by the Free Press, State Fire Marshal Kevin Sehlmeyer notified St. Onge of specific procedures for tracking and reporting lithium-ion battery fires that include property damage and injuries, whether or not the battery was charged, estimated percentage of battery charge at the time of the incident and whether the battery was portable or charging. Reporting protocols also include whether the batteries do not start a fire but create hazardous conditions such as arcing or shorted electrical equipment.

The email sent to fire officials, originated from the Michigan Department of Licensing & Regulatory Affairs, Bureau of Fire Services, noted that the data is being aggregated by the National Fire Incident Reporting System. Specific codes are required to assist with risk analysis.

Public officials are working to determine the breadth of the problem as micro-mobility devices such as e-bikes and scooters continue to grow in popularity.

Tim Hygh, executive director of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, told the Free Press, "The nature of these fires and the growth of e-bikes sales makes it an absolute necessity that information is tracked and shared. We couldn't be more thankful for the attention our firefighters are paying to it."

Mackinac Island, an international vacation destination which attracts hundreds of thousands during its main season of May through October, is known for its bicycles and horse and buggy carriage rides. Cars have been banned on the island for more than a century. But not motorized bicycles. And island bike rental shops continue to see a growing appetite for e-bikes, according to St. Onge.

Steve Brisson, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks, told the Free Press in early May that pedal-assist brings the island into compliance with laws protecting people with disabilities as interpreted by the courts.

On Tuesday, Consumer Reports endorsed the Setting Consumer Standards for Lithium-Ion Batteries Act, legislation in Congress to protect consumers from the risk of fire tied to lithium-ion batteries used in micro-mobility devices such as e-bikes and e-scooters. The bipartisan proposal sponsored by House members from New York would require the Consumer Product Safety Commission to put into effect a consumer product safety standard for rechargeable lithium-ion batteries used in micro-mobility devices, and for other purposes.

In New York City, which has seen a spike in e-bike use since the start of the pandemic in 2020, there have been five fire-related deaths involving e-bike fires out of 59 total e-bike related fires this year, NPR reported April 11. That doesn't include lithium ion battery fires involving scooters.

More:Mackinac Island residents, historic businesses warned of e-bike battery fires

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Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid

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