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Replacement e-bike battery ‘led to deadly fire’ in Cambridge

A house fire that killed a Cambridge mother and her two children was started by a replacement e-bike battery that was purchased after the original was stolen, it has been confirmed.

Gemma Germeney, 31, died at the scene of the devastating blaze in Sackville Close, King’s Hedges, on Friday, June 30, while Lilly Peden, 8, and Oliver Peden, 4, were taken to hospital but sadly died later.

The scene of the fatal fire on Sackville Close, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
The scene of the fatal fire on Sackville Close, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

A report to Cambridgeshire County Council by Cambridgeshire Fire and Rescue Service this week said that the fire’s only survivor, Scott Peden, told how he had bought the new battery online following the theft of the original. The fire service stated that this battery appeared to have overheated while it was being charged, causing the blaze.

Now firefighters have launched a new safety campaign warning the public of the dangers of buying unofficial, cheap or unsuitable replacement e-bike or e-scooter batteries and chargers. And they urged people not to charge devices overnight.

The fire service report said: “In June, the tragic death of a mother and her two young children at a property in Cambridge has been linked to an e-bike on charge. The only survivor of the fire, Mr Scott Peden, has stated that after the original battery was stolen, he replaced it with an online purchase and it seems this has overheated and caused the fire. Our deepest sympathies are extended to all those affected by this tragedy.”

Sackville Close the scene of the fatal fire. Picture: Keith Heppell
Sackville Close the scene of the fatal fire. Picture: Keith Heppell

The report highlighted another incident in Cambridgeshire last month, in which an e-bike had overheated due to an incorrect charger being used.

It said: “The occupant had bought what they thought was a suitable charger. However, the voltage was too high so was supplying more power to the battery than it needed. This resulted in the battery overcharging, creating excess heat, leading to thermal runaway, causing the fire to start. The bike itself did have overcharge protection. However, this will only work with the correct charger, which is why it failed in this instance.”

Following the incident, which occurred on Collingham in Orton Goldhay, near Peterborough, on September 5, the fire service warned: “Fires involving batteries like this spread through a property very quickly, causing tragic consequences.

“Even having smoke alarms to alert residents to a fire are not always life-saving, as overheated batteries can explode releasing harmful vapours and allowing fire to spread too quickly.”

The danger posed by lithium-ion batteries is that they can quickly explode due to the thermal runaway process, which happens when one of the battery’s cells overheats, causing the internal structure of the battery cell to become unstable and collapse. This results in the production of flammable and toxic gases, fire and explosion. The heat spreads to nearby cells, causing them to enter an uncontrollable and irreversible state of thermal runaway too.

The scene of the fatal fire on Sackville Close, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell
The scene of the fatal fire on Sackville Close, Cambridge. Picture: Keith Heppell

Station commander Gareth Boyd is helping to front the Take Charge and Be Safe campaign, which asks the public to keep in mind some simple steps when using electrical devices, especially those with rechargeable lithium-Ion batteries, such as e-bikes, e-scooters, mobility scooters, laptops, tablets, mobile phones and power tools.

He told the Cambridge Independent: “These fires are increasing in frequency because of the popularity of e-bikes and e-scooters. What we tend to find is that people buy the incorrect powered batteries or chargers for the bicycle or the scooter online. Our recommendation is always either go directly to the company that manufactured the e-bike or e-scooter and contact them about getting replacement batteries or chargers or find a reputable shop that can supply you an original battery or charger.

“I’ve had one e-bike for probably two and a half years now and it’s perfectly safe as long as you follow the guidance that we put out along with other fire services in the country. Charge them during waking hours. Don’t put them on charge overnight when everyone’s going to be asleep. Don’t charge them in your exit routes - so if you’re in that house, don’t charge them at the bottom of the stairs. If there’s any damage to them or you know there’s signs they are overheating and they’re not holding the charge, just replace them with an original or compatible battery or charging unit.”

Other advice includes not overloading sockets with multiple items charging at once and the fire service suggests having a good bedtime routine which includes making sure all internal doors are closed, electrical sockets are switched off, any candles or heating appliances are off and keeping hallways and stairs clear of obstructions. This will not only help prevent a fire from happening but also ensure an easy escape if one does start and stop it from spreading.

For more safety advice, visit https://www.cambsfire.gov.uk/community-safety/take-charge-and-be-safe/

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