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NYC journalist's death is city's latest lithium-ion battery fire fatality, officials say

NEW YORK − Friends and colleagues are mourning a New York journalist who died in what authorities say is the city's latest deadly fire sparked by a micromobility device's lithium-ion battery.

Fazil Khan, an Indian national and data journalist, was the lone fatality in an apartment fire Friday that injured 17 others. He was 27.

"We are devastated by the loss of such a great colleague and wonderful person," The Hechinger Report, an education news outlet where Khan worked, said on X, formerly Twitter.

Khan was also a contributor at The City, another New York-based news outlet, which said on X that Khan was "a friend to many in our newsroom."

The blaze, which caused several critical injuries, was caused by batteries from a "micromobility device," New York's fire department told USA TODAY on Monday.

Fazil Khan graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2021. He was the sole fatality in a New York City apartment fire on Feb. 23, 2024 that was caused by a lithium-ion battery, officials said.
Fazil Khan graduated from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in 2021. He was the sole fatality in a New York City apartment fire on Feb. 23, 2024 that was caused by a lithium-ion battery, officials said.

Khan's death is the latest from fires sparked by the batteries, New York fire officials have warned.

Earlier this month, Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh announced that lithium-ion batteries have recently become a leading cause of fires and fire deaths in New York City and that the problem is growing nationwide.

Videos posted by the FDNY show lithium-ion batteries in apartment lobbies, on streets and in other public places erupting quickly and fueling rapidly spreading blazes.

"Make sure any device you have in your home, whether an e-bike or something else powered by a lithium-ion battery, is safe and you can guarantee you and your family are safe when you buy something from a store or from an online retailer," Kavanagh said at a public safety briefing Feb. 2.

A New York City supermarket in the Bronx caught fire in March 2023 due to flames sparked by a lithium-ion battery.
A New York City supermarket in the Bronx caught fire in March 2023 due to flames sparked by a lithium-ion battery.

Editor remembers Khan as patient, generous journalist

One of Khan's editors at The Hechinger Report told USA TODAY he was a "consistently bright spot" in the newsroom who approached complicated projects with care and a smile, no matter how challenging.

Khan was also known for helping others and pushing his colleagues to be more creative with how they told stories through data, Sarah Butrymowicz, senior editor for investigations, told USA TODAY in an email Monday.

"No matter how large or stressful our workload, Fazil was a calming presence and, in his quiet, humble way, would inevitably leave me feeling excited about upcoming work and confident it would be done to the highest standard," she said.

Why are lithium-ion batteries dangerous?

Heat and explosions from rechargeable lithium-ion batteries can cause intense, fast-spreading fires that are difficult to extinguish with water, New York's fire department warns. Traditional fire extinguishers found in homes also do not work against lithium-ion battery fires, the department says.

Many electric bikes and scooters sold in the U.S. in recent years may contain lithium-ion batteries that have not been approved by consumer safety laboratories, and more laws and regulations on e-bike batteries are needed in the U.S., fire officials have warned.

"It seems like no matter how much we say that this is a problem, we either see that these are still being sold and people need to be held responsible for that," Kavanagh told ABC 7 in New York last year.

In many cases, consumers may be unaware a mobility device − or even a child's toy − could be very dangerous, she said.

"People may not realize that the device they have in their home was sold prior to any of this regulation," Kavanagh told the outlet.

How many people die from lithium-ion battery fires?

There has been a dramatic increase in deaths from fires sparked by lithium-ion batteries in New York City, the fire department says.

In 2019 and 2020, there were zero deaths from lithium-ion battery fires, according to the department, but the city has seen a spike since then.

Last year, 17 people in New York died from lithium-ion battery fires, the fire department told USA TODAY. That was up from 2022, which saw six deaths, and 2021, which saw four deaths from the battery fires, the department said.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lithium-ion battery fires continue to kill New Yorkers