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Lithium-ion battery blamed in NYC fire that killed 1 and injured 17

Three New York City firefighters are shown being lowered via a rope to the fifth floor of a burning building in Harlem on Friday. One person was killed and 17 others injured in the blaze, which FDNY officials blamed on a malfunctioning lithium-ion battery. Photo courtesy Fire Department of New York/X
Three New York City firefighters are shown being lowered via a rope to the fifth floor of a burning building in Harlem on Friday. One person was killed and 17 others injured in the blaze, which FDNY officials blamed on a malfunctioning lithium-ion battery. Photo courtesy Fire Department of New York/X

Feb. 25 (UPI) -- A fire that killed one person and injured 17 others this week in New York City was caused by a malfunctioning lithium-ion battery, according to city fire marshals.

The two-alarm blaze on the fourth and fifth floors of an apartment building in the Harlem neighborhood of Hamilton Heights broke out shortly after 2 p.m. Friday, forcing Fire Department of New York personnel to use ropes to rescue residents of the building on St. Nicholas Place.

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Officials said three FDNY firefighters using the lifesaving rope were lowered to the fifth floor where victims were trapped, grabbed them and lowered them to the ground. A total of 18 victims were taken from the building. Twelve were hospitalized and four were listed in critical condition as of Friday.

The fatality was identified as Fazil Khan, 27, an investigative journalist from India who had relocated to the United States. FDNY listed him as the first casualty of 2024 linked to a lithium-ion battery fire.

Fire marshals announced Saturday the cause of fire had been pinpointed as a lithium-ion battery. Such batteries caused 267 fires, 150 injuries and 18 deaths in the city last year, they said.

Dorothy Montague, a resident of the building for 50 years, said she started worrying when she saw new tenants parking their e-bikes outside and charging their lithium batteries indoors.

"I did see the elongated battery in their hands and I asked one young man, 'please be careful, please be careful,' and I spoke to management," she told WNBC-TV. "Unfortunately, someone had to die and I am so sorry about that but it had been brought to management's attention."

FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanaugh warned earlier this month that lithium-ion batteries are now a leading cause of fires and fire deaths in the city.

In September, the city started enforcing e-bike battery certification at retailers, which requires any mobility device using lithium-ion batteries to comply with safety standards before it is sold.

FDNY Chief Fire Marshal Daniel Flynn sounded the alarm in Congress earlier this month, calling on lawmakers to pass legislation mandating safety standards that would broaden the scope of batteries covered under those standards.

"We cannot regulate devices that are coming into the city from surrounding areas," Flynn said.

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Investigators say they have opened two dozen cases into fires potentially started by lithium-ion batteries across New York City's five boroughs since the start the start of this year. Eight injuries and one death have been reported so far.

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