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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

‘Catastrophic failure’ of e-bike battery pack caused CdA police building fire

Crews battle a fire June 9 at a Couer d’Alene Police Department building, which stores expensive, high-end equipment for the department.  (Courtesy of Couer d'Alene Fire Department)

A “catastrophic failure” of an electric bicycle lithium-ion battery pack being charged caused a fire last week that destroyed a Coeur d’Alene Police Department equipment storage building, according to the Idaho Department of Insurance.

The early-morning fire June 9 destroyed the auxiliary building near Kathleen Avenue and Ramsey Road. It’s where police, code enforcement and animal control have offices, Coeur d’Alene Fire Department Deputy Fire Marshal Craig Etherton said at the time.

“This was an unfortunate and unexpected failure that caused the fire and is being ruled an accident,” Idaho State Fire Marshal Knute Sandahl said in the release.

Among the losses were 16 “four-wheeled” vehicles and a large command trailer the department uses for “complex” incidents, Etherton said. Several police vehicles, including motorcycles, were also destroyed, according to a Department of Insurance news release.

Coeur d’Alene Police Chief Lee White told the City Council Tuesday the police department is in the process of identifying items lost in the fire.

He said the fire essentially destroyed all K-9 unit items and specialty units, like SWAT equipment. He said a brand new police car with fewer than 70 miles on it was destroyed.

“The scope of this is huge,” he said.

The city’s insurance company will conduct a forensic analysis, but the results will not be known for several months, which is typical for an insurance company because “the failed product is so new, and the loss is so great,” the release said.

Investigators focused on recently acquired battery-operated electric bikes, one of which showed evidence of a failure of the battery pack.

“Officers assigned to bike patrol received training on the e-bicycles’ use and charging after use, before they were placed into service,” the release said. “Examination of the charging station showed that it was properly plugged into an outlet and there was no evidence of misuse or prior damage of either the e-bicycle or charging unit.”

Fire investigators from the Idaho State Fire Marshal’s Office, Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and the Coeur d’Alene Fire Department investigated.

“This was a difficult, multi-day investigation,” state fire marshal Knute Sandahl said in the release. “There were many complex aspects of the fire that needed to be sorted out.”

The Coeur d’Alene City Council unanimously approved Tuesday an emergency declaration to allow the city to expedite the process of purchasing replacement items without having to comply with formal bidding procedures.

“I’m not asking to go on a spending spree or requesting additional funding from council,” White said. “We’re just asking that the city declare an emergency because of the catastrophic fire so we can circumvent some of those lengthy processes.”

White wrote in a City Council staff report the loss will likely be in the millions of dollars. The City is insured, and it’s hoped insurance proceeds will cover the entire loss.

White said fire sprinklers were not installed in the building because it wasn’t required by code. He said the department recommended the roughly $15,000 sprinklers be installed prior to the fire and will recommend sprinklers be installed if a new building is constructed.