Woman, 21, dies in fire which was started by converted e-bike battery in hallway

Sofia Duarte (London Fire Brigade)
Sofia Duarte (London Fire Brigade)

A young woman died in a fire which began in a converted e-bike battery in the hallway of her building.

Sofia Duarte, 21, died on New Year’s Day 2023, when the fire started at her flat on Old Kent Road, in Southwark.

She had been sleeping when the smoke alarm woke her, with thick smoke filling the bedroom.

Her partner suggested they escape through their window but she tried to exit through her door and the staircase out of the building.

She “wouldn’t have been aware of the intense fire on the other side of the door, or that the fire exit was completely blocked by flames,” the London Fire Brigade (LFB) said.

An inquest at Southwark Coroner's Court heard that the fire started when lithium-ion batteries ignited in the communal ground floor.

Two electric bikes, one of which was converted from an ordinary bike, had been charging in the hallway.

Ms Duarte died of smoke burns and smoke inhalation.

Assistant Coroner Xavier Mooyaart said: “The cause of the fire was attributed to battery failure from a retrofitted e-bike.

“The melting of the battery enclosure shows the batteries had been in a high state of charge. This fire appeared to have started due to the internal failure of the lithium-ion cells in the battery pack.”

Although the LFB had concluded the battery was the source of the fire, it was not able to determine the exact reason why the battery had caught fire.

Mr Mooyaart concluded that Ms Duarte’s death was “accidental” and declined her family’s call for a Prevention of Future Death Report because there was “insufficient evidence” about why the batteries ignited.

But he went on to say he would reconsider the evidence, to decide whether a report is needed, after hearing a family friend’s plea.

They want the Government to bring in laws about e-bike storage, so they are not left to charge in places which block the only exit out of a building.

Sofia’s mother, Maria said: “Sofia was 21, she was a fun-loving girl, she loved to dance and she loved to party.

“She liked to go out with her friends, spend time with her boyfriend and travel. Sofia loved her job working behind the bar at a nightclub.”

“Now all I have left is my daughter’s ashes in a box in my room. I urge everyone to be so careful with e-bikes, so you don’t have to go through the hell I am going through. I miss my daughter so much; she was my world.”

The LFB is also warning people about the dangers of lithium battery fires – the fastest-growing fires in London.

It said: “These batteries are found in e-scooters and e-bikes Once they start, they spread extremely quickly and are really difficult to escape from.

“You can help reduce the risk of a lithium battery catching fire by charging your batteries safely, spotting the warning signs that a battery is dangerous and having your bicycle converted to an e-bike by a professional.”