Lithium-ion battery starts fire at Berkeley Hope Center

The fire sprinkler system "probably saved the whole building," BFD said.

Lithium-ion battery starts fire at Berkeley Hope Center
Berkeley firefighters during a training operation (file photo). Emilie Raguso/The Berkeley Scanner

A fire broke out at the Hope Center in downtown Berkeley when a lithium-ion battery overheated Monday night, authorities report.

Battalion Chief Brian Harryman of the Berkeley Fire Department credited the Hope Center's fire sprinkler system with putting out the blaze before it spread.

"It probably saved the whole building," he said.

The Hope Center, which opened in 2022 on the site of a former city parking lot, has 53 supportive housing units while Berkeley Way Apartments, part of the same complex, has 89 affordable units and services for low-income families.

Firefighters were dispatched to the Hope Center, at 2012 Berkeley Way, just before 8:30 p.m. Monday for a report of smoke on the third floor.

"We're getting reports of somebody blowing up their room, unknown what that means," a dispatcher told the Berkeley Fire Department as the call came in.

Thanks to proximity, Berkeley firefighters arrived at the Hope Center in under a minute, Harryman said: BFD's Station 2 is just across the street about 100 feet away.

Inside the apartment, firefighters found scooters and lithium-ion batteries that had been charging unattended.

The fire was out quickly thanks to the sprinkler system, but the water caused "considerable damage" to the apartment where the batteries were charging.

Several adjacent units saw minimal damage due to water that got in beneath the doors.

Firefighters had to manually turn off the sprinklers to control the flow.

"There's a considerable amount of water damage," a firefighter said over the radio just before 8:40 p.m., adding: "We're going to need squeegees and manpower."

All of the residents were able to return to their rooms aside from the unit where the fire happened.

Fortunately, Harryman said, a friend in the building offered that resident a place to stay.

"We checked around and all the shelters were full. All the hotels were full," he said. "We really didn't have a place to send him."

Harryman noted that some of the scooter rental companies pay people to charge lithium-ion batteries for them. But he said he did not know if that had been the case on Berkeley Way.

BFD strongly discourages anyone from charging lithium-ion batteries inside their homes, he added. Even outside, they should not be left unattended.

"Don't plug them in and leave for the day or leave them for the weekend," he said. "These things are overcharging, heating up and causing fires. If you are going to charge it, remain home with it and don't charge it inside."

Last year, the city of Berkeley announced in June that six recent fires had been caused by unattended lithium battery charging.

"These local battery fires — involving e-skateboards, e-scooters, and at least one e-bike — have also been seen around the region and nation," the city wrote.

The city also noted that fires could "occur spontaneously while charging" and advised anyone noticing signs of fire, such as smoke, gas and sparks, to evacuate the area and immediately call 911.

Lithium battery safety tips from the city of Berkeley:

Reduce lithium-ion battery fire risk for e-skateboards, e-scooters, and e-bikes
Multiple fires in the City of Berkeley were caused by lithium batteries left unattended while charging. Easy preventative actions reduce risks. Call 9-1-1 for battery fires from these devices. Know how to safely care for, replace, and re-charge lithium batteries—increasingly common in household devices but also the cause of at least six recent fires in Berkeley when left charging unattended. These local battery fires—involving e-skateboards, e-scooters, and at least one e-bike—have also been seen around the region and nation. Simple tips can help keep you and your household safe:
  • Only use the original manufacturers’ chargers, batteries and replacements
  • Charge only until the battery is full, then disconnect
  • Keep the battery away from heat, cold and flammable items while charging and storing
  • Discard distressed batteries (those that are swollen, dented or otherwise damaged) at a drop-off site — not in your garbage can

Learn more from the city of Berkeley about fire risks related to lithium-ion batteries.

The Climate Action Center also has a great roundup of lithium-ion battery safety tips.

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