Fire sparks ebike concerns

Freak accident: The fire, at a residential building in Nanjing city, Jiangsu province, is believed to have been caused by ebikes parked on the ground floor. — AFP

THE municipal authorities in Nanjing, the capital of Jiangsu province, have begun a citywide check of potential fire hazards, especially those related to electric bikes, after a fire in a high-rise residential building killed 15 and injured 44.

The fire early last Friday was put out at 6am local time the same day, about one-and-a-half hours after it broke out. Search-and-rescue work was concluded at 2pm that day. The fire is believed to have been caused by ebikes parked on the ground floor.

The 30-plus-storey building comprises about 400 apartments, and is one of six buildings of the same size in the government-subsidised neighbourhood built in 2013 in downtown Nanjing.

Like the other five buildings in the same neighbourhood, the building’s ground-floor area, which does not have outer walls, is a public space that was turned into a carpark for ebikes, bicycles and motorcycles. Charging posts for ebikes were also installed.

State regulations strictly ban the charging of ebikes or their batteries, or even parking ebikes, in both residential or office buildings.

Yet, the builders and property managers turned the ground floor of these apartment blocks into parking and charging sites for ebikes.

The open space and wall-less structure of the ground floor allowed air to fan the flames, contributing to the rapid spread of the fire from the ground floor to the top of the building.

Statistics show that about 80% of ebike fires – which result in an explosion in seconds, making them almost uncontrollable – occur while the vehicle is charging, and more than half of such fires occur during nighttime charging.

Furthermore, businesses that offer modification of ebikes and their batteries to raise the vehicles’ speeds and load capacity far beyond national standards are conducted openly in many cities.

About 21,000 fires caused by ebikes were reported nationwide in 2023, an increase of 17.4% compared with in 2022. The 2022 figure was 23.4% higher than in 2021.

As the largest manufacturer and consumer of ebikes – one in four Chinese has an ebike, on average – and seeing that the country has moved most people into high-rise buildings in fast-expanding cities over the past decade, the authorities are obliged to take more concrete actions to prevent the commonest means of transport from becoming a threat to life. — China Daily/ANN

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