Four people were killed, including a 71-year-old man and a 65-year-old woman, after a fire tore through an e-bike service store on the first floor of a building near Manhattan’s Chinatown neighborhood early Tuesday morning, according to the police.
The fire, at a six-story mixed-use building at 80 Madison Street, started around 12:15 a.m. and spread through the store, which has residential apartments above it, according to officials. About 140 firefighters and emergency personnel responded.
Six adults were taken to three area hospitals, where four of them — two women and two men — died. The other two, both women, were in critical condition, the police said.
The fire left soot smeared above the broken-out windows of the building, which also houses a deli, a laundromat and a news stand. A mountain of charred e-bikes and scooters was piled up on the corner.
The cause of the fire was under investigation Tuesday morning, the New York Fire Department said.
The Red Cross said in a tweet that it was providing emergency shelter for eight households, comprising 23 adults and two children.
Belal Alayah, who was working at his family’s deli near the fire Tuesday morning, said he was about to close up shop at around midnight when a customer from the neighborhood ran into the store and told him about the fire.
Mr. Alayah, 25, said he walked outside and saw “a circle of flames” burning through the metal gate at the e-bike store. He called 911.
“It looked like it was melting,” he said.
Within minutes, smoke began to fill the block, including his deli. “So we packed our bags and ran out,” he said.
As e-bikes and scooters have become ubiquitous in the city since the pandemic, where they are widely used by delivery workers and for general transport, officials have grappled with the flammability of the lithium-ion batteries that power them and the risk they pose to New Yorkers.
Lithium-ion batteries, which also power devices like phones, laptops and power tools, started about 200 fires in New York City last year. This year, the batteries have become the leading cause of fire deaths in the city, according to fire officials. As of May 30, there had been 92 lithium battery fires in the city, which had resulted in nine deaths and 64 injuries.
In March, New York City adopted a groundbreaking package of laws that bans the sale or lease of e-bikes and e-scooters that fail to meet recognized safety standards and also prohibits the refurbishing of used lithium batteries.
Mayor Eric Adams also announced a “Charge Safe, Ride Safe” action plan. The plan called for the creation of a fire marshal task force focused on identifying high-risk situations and fire code violations. It also called for increased public education efforts about the dangers of lithium batteries.
Fire officials have also shut down illegal battery charging stations in bike shops and bodegas, where multiple batteries have been charging at once.
In April, two siblings, a 19-year-old girl and her 7-year-old brother, were killed in an “explosion of fire” caused by an e-bike that was being charged near the front door of an apartment building in the Astoria neighborhood of Queens.
Biyun Liu, whose family opened the e-bike and scooter service store on Madison Street about two and a half years ago, said Tuesday morning that they learned of the fire hours after closing shop.
“We got a phone call from a friend. He said ‘Oh your store’s on fire,’” Mr. Liu said. “We immediately go to our store and there were a lot of police over there to take the fire down.”
Mr. Alayah, the deli worker, said he stood on the block with about 200 others, as sirens blared and people screamed, watching as firefighters broke windows and worked to extinguish the flames.
At around 3 a.m., firefighters began removing charred bikes from the store and piling them on the corner of the street.
Ellen Yan contributed reporting.
This is a developing story and will be updated.