ASTORIA, Queens (PIX11) — The tranquil surroundings on 46th Street in Astoria, Queens on Tuesday were in marked contrast to the emotions of grief that engulfed the working class neighborhood the day before. Workers were seen patching up the scars left by Monday’s devastating fire, while a family was preparing for a funeral for two of its children.
Fire officials attribute an e-bike lithium-ion battery to igniting the fire that trapped a father and his five children inside the home on the second floor. Fire units arrived within five minutes, but screams for help alerted neighbors who raced within seconds to try and save lives.
Steven Cachie Brown said he heard the cries for help. When he arrived at the rear of the home he saw thick, black smoke. “They couldn’t escape,” he declared. “A metal bar on the window blocked them from getting out, but the father squeezed one of his sons through. By the Grace of God he was able to do that.”
Brown and two other neighbors were able to catch three of the children. They and their father, Salah Ahmed Alyafi, managed to survive. But a 19-year-old sister and 7-year-old brother, frozen in fear, were unable to escape the flames.
Neighbors said something must be done about those lethal batteries powering e-bikes and scooters. Tom Schabert, who helped in the rescue of the children, declared, “They’re dangerous. They explode and the city knew about it, but what are they doing about it, nothing,” he insisted, adding, “They’re out of control.”
But another neighbor said he recognized the danger of the e-bike batteries, but he claimed the bikes are a necessity in his neighborhood. “Everyone is pushing the green agenda, but we don’t have enough parking here. It’s the way to travel with these e-bikes,” he argued.
Fire officials have determined that the lithium-ion battery that triggered the fire was connected to an aftermarket charger. One neighbor who rents several apartments in the area said he warns tenants about the hazards of the volatile batteries. John Kapsalas said he tells tenants all the time not to charge batteries inside the house. “But they don’t want to listen,” he said. “I am the property owner. I own the house, not the tenant.”
Lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes have been linked to hundreds of fires in New York City. In 2019 there were 30 fires, 48 the following year, 104 in 2021 and 220 last year. There have been 59 such fires so far this year.
Former Fire Commissioner Dan Nigro told PIX11 News the problem is not going to end until they place a ban on the import the dangerous batteries.
U.S. Rep. Ritchie Torres has introduced a bill in Congress to create stiffer safety standards for the batteries. Mayor Eric Adams recently signed a slew of e-bike safety measures, including one that would ban the sale of litium-ion batteries that fail to meet recognized safety standards.