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E-Bike Batteries Caused Deadly East Village Apartment Fire, FDNY Commissioner Says

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Fire investigators said Friday e-bike batteries caused a deadly fire in the East Village that left two teenagers clinging to a pole trying to escape the flames.

As CBS2's Leah Mishkin reported, a man was killed and the teens' mother was in critical condition.

A 13-year-old boy and 18-year-old girl used a pole outside the Jacob Riis Houses to get to safety Thursday morning after a fire broke out in their 4th floor apartment.

"My anxiety was so high last night. All I kept hearing was the people screaming. I kept thinking that I was going to wake up to see the fire again," said resident Catherine Rumardo.

On Friday, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro announced the fire was caused by lithium-ion batteries from an e-bike.

"These batteries, when they're damaged or overcharged, release hydrogen gas, explode violently," Nigro said.

There were seven e-bikes in the apartment.

So far in 2021, there have been 93 fires caused by lithium batteries, according to the FDNY. That's 49 more than in 2020. Nigro called it a dangerous new trend.

"The intensity of this fire was such that it blew the windows out and actually blew a wall down within the apartment on top of the bed in which these teenagers were sleeping," said Nigro.

The teenagers are in stable condition, according to police. Their 46-year-old mother remains in critical condition.

"The only thing we can do as a community is pray for the family, keep everybody in prayer. We're sorry for their loss," one person said.

"I've never seen this. I've been living here since my father came out of the Korean War and I've never seen a thing like this," said Hilda Cortes. "I'm really so sorry, I really am. I have no words."

The FDNY reminded people that e-bikes should not be charged overnight or near an exit door or bedroom. They said it should be done in a well-ventilated area, preferably outside.

CBS2's Leah Mishkin contributed to this report.

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