As 2023 ends: 18 New Yorkers have died in 220 fires started by Lithium-Ion batteries

New York City — For the first time in 16 years, Migdalia Torres will spend the holidays without her partner, Hiram Echevarria.
 
Earlier this month, the 40-year-old Echevarria, who shared children with Torres, became the 18th person in New York City this year to die in a fire linked to a lithium-ion battery. 

“I think they kind of knew already that the explosion was caused by the e-bike,” Torres told CBS News. 

If lithium-ion batteries are improperly made or used, the results can be explosive. Lithium-ion batteries were responsible for at least 220 fires in New York City in 2022, according to city numbers, and were also to blame for at least 10 deaths and 226 injuries in 2021 and 2022.  

On Monday night, a lithium-ion battery in an e-bike was suspected of sparking a three-alarm blaze in the Bronx that left three people with minor injuries and damaged a deli and several apartments, the New York City Fire Department said.

A fire last month at a home in Brooklyn that killed three family members and injured 14 others was caused by a lithium-ion battery, FDNY investigators found.

“This is all evidence,” New York City Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh said of the damage from the battery fires. “You know, each one of these caused either a massive fire or a death or both.”
 
Kavanagh has been vocal about the dangers of lithium-ion batteries, especially in electric bikes and scooters.

“These will go from, you know, nothing to a sudden explosion of fire,” Kavanagh said. “We see first responders not able to get in.”

The nonprofit group Consumer Reports advises buyers to always purchase from reputable companies and to look for batteries with safety certifications. Buyers should not mix manufacturers’ batteries and chargers, or leave devices charging unattended or near flammable items.

“While the onus should absolutely be on the manufacturer, and should be on the seller, right now it’s a little bit of buyer beware,” said Gabe Knight, a policy analyst with Consumer Reports’ safety team.

The FDNY also warns against blocking your exit path with a lithium-ion battery-powered device.

As she grieves, Torres hopes others heed the warnings.

“He was practically my best friend,” Torres said of Echevarria. “…It was just really unfortunate.”