Batteries in E-Bikes and Other Devices Are Sparking Fires in San Francisco

Two people jumped out of an apartment complex window in the Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco to escape a fire that was spreading in their unit on Monday. One of them was seriously injured and taken to a hospital burn center, officials said.

That terrifying blaze was probably caused by an overheated e-scooter battery that firefighters later spotted plugged in to a charger near the unit’s front door, according to Capt. Jonathan Baxter, a spokesman for the San Francisco Fire Department. It was the 24th fire in San Francisco this year that has been linked to rechargeable batteries, he told me.

The city isn’t alone. Fires associated with rechargeable batteries have had a devastating effect in New York City, ripping through buildings including public housing complexes and luxury towers — and have killed more than 20 people there since 2021.

“Fortunately, we’re not seeing it to that same degree here in San Francisco,” Baxter told me. “However, one fire is one too many.”

Battery-related fires have increased steadily in San Francisco as e-bikes and e-scooters have proliferated in recent years. According to the Fire Department, there have been 202 battery fires in the city since 2017, killing one person and injuring eight. Fifty-eight of them broke out last year, up from 13 in 2017, and this year is on a pace to equal or exceed 2022.

The figures include fires linked to rechargeable batteries used in e-scooters and e-bikes (the most common culprits) as well as electric cars, motorcycles and skateboards.

While dozens of structures have been damaged, a majority of the fires have erupted at homeless encampments, where, Baxter told me, people are probably tinkering with electric scooters and other vehicles in ways that make them more likely to burst into flames.

As my colleagues in New York have reported, off-market, refurbished, damaged or improperly charged lithium-ion batteries can explode, igniting fast-moving fires that are difficult to extinguish. Lithium-ion batteries are also used in computers and cellphones, but so-called micro-mobility vehicle batteries are bigger and tend to be damaged by a lot of wear and tear, experts say.

“All it takes is for one small battery cell to be defective, overcharged or damaged, and a tremendous amount of energy is released in the form of heat and toxic flammable gases all at once,” Daniel Murray, the New York Fire Department’s chief of hazmat operations, told The New York Times.

E-bikes and e-scooters are less regulated than electric cars, which start fewer fires even though they require far more energy. Hoping to get ahead of the fire problem, New York will ban the sale of e-bikes and similar devices that do not meet recognized safety standards, starting in September; it’s the first American city to do that.

Officials in San Francisco are warning residents not to charge e-bikes or e-scooters while they are asleep, or to use any charging device other than those made by the bike or scooter’s manufacturer. And they say that if a battery fire does erupt in your home, don’t try to put it out yourself — you probably can’t. Instead, evacuate right away and call 911.

Read more e-bike and e-scooter safety tips from the National Fire Protection Association.

The rest of the news

Jamming the Legislature: Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strategy in the State Capitol involves creating a sense of urgency around an issue and then giving lawmakers little time to act, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Beaver preservation: California is hoping that beavers, long treated as nuisances, can help enhance groundwater supplies and buffer against the threat of wildfires, The Associated Press reports.


Remote auditions: As part of their strike against film and TV studios, actors are pushing for standardized rules for self-taped auditions, after an arms race developed among actors who feel pressure to use the highest-quality production equipment at home, The Los Angeles Times reports.


Heat wave: Inmates at California’s largest female prison say they have been left sweltering this month as the prison’s cooling systems have failed, The Sacramento Bee reports.


Police shortage: The Vallejo Police Department is so short of officers that the City Council declared a state of emergency, KTVU reports.

Government gun backers: The Shasta County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution on Tuesday declaring that the county would “use all lawful means” to defend the Second Amendment, The Los Angeles Times reports.

Teacher housing: Mayor London Breed announced that San Francisco would spend $32 million for two additional housing developments for schoolteachers working in the high-cost city, The San Francisco Chronicle reports.

Where we’re traveling

Today’s tip comes from Luann Chou, who lives in Redondo Beach. Luann recommends San Juan Capistrano:

“If you’re adventurous, you can take the train in via the Pacific Surfliner (operated by Amtrak), which lands you right where you want to be, Los Rios Historical District, an easy walking area filled with shops, restaurants and even an adorable teahouse. My favorite spot is Five Vines Wine Bar, which is run by a family of five. You can create your own flights, and they have a wine club with wonderfully unique wines. They have an extensive food menu, too. On your way out, make sure you pick up some bread at FKN Bread.”

Tell us about your favorite places to visit in California. Email your suggestions to [email protected]. We’ll be sharing more in upcoming editions of the newsletter.

Tell us

What are the best books about California or the part of the state where you live? What fiction or nonfiction would you put on a Golden State reading list, and why?

Email us at [email protected] with your suggestions. Please include your name and the city where you live.

And before you go, some good news

The name says it all.

The Chaotic Singles Party is a monthly event where singles can meet other singles, but only if they bring a random Tinder match as their plus one.

The concept was created by Cassidy Davis, who struggled with dating in Los Angeles during the pandemic. On Valentine’s Day in 2022, she instructed her single female friends to invite random men from their dating apps to her house for a party. Then she decided to invite 65 men off Tinder.

Davis uploaded videos of the party to TikTok, and they went viral. She has been throwing the events ever since.

The parties offer relief from using dating apps — a kind of solace that more and more people are seeking. At one recent event in New York, romantic hopefuls wearing white name tags sipped drinks and almost screamed in conversation as pop music blared.

Godfrey Butler, 26, an I.T. field technician, arrived alone after discovering the event on Eventbrite two days earlier. “I was trying to be a brave soldier,” he said, adding that his dating life had been in a “rough patch.”

“I haven’t used dating apps this year, but maybe I should join,” he added. “I think it’s better to meet people in person.”

Thanks for reading. I’ll be back tomorrow. — Soumya

P.S. Here’s today’s Mini Crossword.

Briana Scalia and Maia Coleman contributed to California Today. You can reach the team at [email protected].

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Soumya Karlamangla is the lead writer for the California Today newsletter, where she provides daily insights and updates from her home state. More about Soumya Karlamangla

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