First of all, an apology for just vanishing like that. I told the moderator crew what happened last February, but I was hesitant to talk all about it until I had money in hand. And I had quite a lot to do, with a good dose of PTSD.
The short version, my cheap ass shipped illegally 18650 48v 20 ah battery from K battery (alibabba) caught fire in my garage, while charging. The timing was when it would have been full, so the assumption is that it overcharged, the assumption that the bms let it over charge a string. I did what I try to never do, forget about a charging battery, and go to sleep. But I forgot about this "Safe" bms equipped lithim manganese pack and went to bed. It should have just filled, and the charger shut off, like it always does.
There is a thread on that battery, in the reviews section. It was not even two years old, it was not even run hard at any time. It had been run till the bms stopped it exactly three times. Once when new, to check capacity. Once last spring, to check capacity. Once this spring, that day, to check its capacity. All three times, capacity and performance was very close to the same. It never put out more than 18 ah, last spring 17 ah, and this spring 17 ah.
Seems pretty clear that maybe something happened on the discharge, to a string of cells. Maybe the bms let me over discharge a string. But bear in mind, if that is what happened,,,,, why the hell did I get normal capacity out of it? It acted like it was in balance, it did not quit early. This battery had not been acting up in any way. It never showed the tiniest symptom of cells going bad inside.
THIS IS THE SCARY SHIT. THIS PERFECTLY GOOD, PREVIOUSLY RELIABLE BATTERY BURNED MY HOUSE. NEARLY TOOK ME WITH IT.
The fire started on the bike itself, we saw this once we woke up and realized there was a fire in the garage. Then it burned the garage pretty much completely. It tried to break into the house, but the fire wall in the attic kept it out of the house attic. FWIW, this happened because I actually had two firewalls in that garage. the first was the sheetrock ceiling in the garage, then a second sheetrock barriers separated the garage attic from the house attic. Otherwise, this house would have burned completely down, possibly with me, my wife, and two dogs inside. This was about number 8 of my nine lives gone. Very scary shit, especially because I have been on fire before, and know exactly what it's like lying in the ER getting your burnt skin peeled all over your body.
Lets back up just a bit,, I'll tell the story just how it happened, in sequence now.
That afternoon, feb 12th, was a beautiful southwest desert day. It was actually over 70 degrees, and no wind. I decided to do my annual spring battery capacity test. This means take the bike out on a warm day, and see how far it will go. All winter of course, the battery has been lower capacity, but on a warm day you can test it and get an idea how long a maximum distance ride next summer can be. So I went out for a very long ride, discharging completely my 48v 20 ah k battery. This is the 18650, lithium manganese cobalt sulfer whatever cells. No name cells, but still the same chemistry you get in a top of the line e bike battery today. Not lico, not older lmn, not lipoly. Current stuff we know and have come to trust quite a bit.
Coming back home, I did what I do all winter, when the garage is cool enough. Left the battery on the bike, in its holder, and put it on charge in the garage. You've seen me say "never charge where you would not build a fire" about a zillion times. But that is Lico, the hobby king RC lipo stuff, which I store and charge as if it was dynamite. The bms equipped battery, I thought, could be trusted. The bms protects me, and the cells, I thought, were not likely to go off with no warnings at all that the battery has a problem.
But, in retrospect,, perhaps I had the bike parked in a shitty place. Real shitty. In the corner of the very overstuffed garage, where on a peg above the bike, hangs, oh,, about 4 or 5 nylon coats. Couple wind shells, one ski parka, and my ballistic nylon armored motorcycle riding jacket. Hmm,,, I suppose I coulda just hung a gas soaked towel over the bike. Then, the cherry on top,, almost touching the bike, my Yamaha 400 cc scooter. Which I had just filled with 3.5 gallons of gas the day before. Soooo,, dumass,,, lets charge the battery within inches of three gallons of gasoline, and enough plastic to burn the house down. yeah,,,, pretty damn stupid now that I think about it. Then go to bed with the charger running.
What can I say,, I was trusting that bms equipped battery that much that I never even thought about it going off. If I had seen a hint that the battery had any problem, it would have been charging out in the yard.
So, I forget about the battery on charge, which I had intended to let run till it was about half full, then unplug about dinner time. Had a nice dinner, and went to bed early as I always do. My chronic fatigue generally hits me hard in the evenings, and asleep by 7 is not unusual at all for me. About 8 pm,, my wife is shaking me awake. "Hey,, something is going on in the garage" She was also asleep in her room, or at least dozing watching tv, and she hears some kind of weird pounding noise in the garage. ( separate rooms when you are on different sleep schedules can save your marriage btw) She thinks somebody is trying to jimmy our garage door, or making noise taking shit, or something. I get up, naked, and as I go down the hall, I hear popping noises, like firecrackers. I know just what this is. It could only be the worst. We run to the kitchen/garage door, and crack it open to see a huge fire in the corner where the bike is, and hear more pops as the cells go off one by one.
I hit the garage door opener, to let the fire out, and let me do what I can from outside, and Sue grabs a fire extinguisher. First thing, I dial 911, then run for some pants in my bedroom. Still very little smoke in the house, just what whiffed in the door the one second it was open. Sue runs to the garage back door, thinking maybe she can get in that way and put it out. No go, she opens that regular 3 foot back door and sees,, no way I'm stepping in there. Huge black smoke, die if you go in deal. She drops the extinguisher and forgets that plan. By then I have pants on, and run out the front door. I see the garage looking like a scene from the movie Backdraft. Its just seconds from flashover. In the corner, the whole wall is on fire, all that nylon burning. The bike is totally on fire, the tires burning, the whole deal. The scooter is burning better than any of it, the entire foam seat and the plastic cargo pod is on fire. Flames are dancing spookily on the ceiling of the garage just like in the movies you see of the couch on fire in a fire mans burn and backdraft test. Ok,, I can see there is not going to be any hooking the bike out of the garage with a hoe before its too late, then hosing the scooter down with a garden hose. This garage is a gonner, and the whole house will follow it really soon. This is for the professionals.
Fortunately, they are literally 3 min away. They pulled up at my house 3 min from my call. Outstanding! We liked it how close the fire station was when we bought that house. We thought it would come in handy for my heart attack though, not a real fire. Those guys really showed how professional they were, within 10 min, there was 5 engines at the house and it was out. They spent a long time in the attic making sure, but they saved my house, and nearly all the stuff inside it. The garage did flashover big time, in those three short min before they arrived, but they knocked that down amazingly fast.
So now I see I can't stop this, time to get the dogs, and get away from the house. This took longer than it should have. Two st Bernards, each very strong, and very determined to hide under a bed. By now, there is a foot of smoke at the ceiling, and the smoke alarms have gone off, which make the dogs want to get under a bed and hide even more than the fire did. It takes a lot of time, and a lot of strength to drag out a 130 pound dog, fighting you with all four feet resisting you. No collars on the dogs, because they cause neck heat rashes and neck infections. If I'd thought of grabbing a leash and collar it would have helped, but I just grabbed neck ruff, and started dragging. Got one dog out, shut the door. Getting the second dog out, dog one blasts back inside. Smoke is getting worse in there by the second, but still only at ceiling level. Takes several min to get both dogs out, both people out and the door shut. Success! Screw the damn snake in the aquarium in the living room. Sorry snake, but I'm done going back in there.
So I run around the yard some, getting a piece of rope to leash the dogs. When I get back, Sue is standing at the door, and says the dogs got back in. She went back in for her medications and wallet, and could not stop the dogs going back in. So I get real stupid then, and go back in after the dogs. By now its serious smoke in there, but I can breathe if I crouch walk. Fortunately at some point Sue had closed all the bedroom doors, so this time the dogs are not under beds. Both hunkered down at the end of the hall. Got them roped, and dragged out quicker this time.
Whew!,, that was way too much going back into a house on fire. As I mentioned, not my first house on fire. The last time I ran out with my head on fire, and burning contact cement all over my hands, and bare feet. I was thinking each time I went in,, woah,, this is gonna really hurt. But thanks to the double fire wall, the house itself never burned, and only smoke was inside. Still, that last trip in there was not a good idea. And of course, we could easily have slept through it a lot longer, and not got out at all.
By now firemen are there, and we are in the back yard with the dogs on leash. There is no way out of the yard, without going past the burning garage too close to live through. So we go to the front corner of the 6' tall chain link fence far from the fire as we can get. From there, we can peek around the house, and we see flames coming out the front garage door, about 40 feet tall. Taller than the pine trees in the neighborhood. The guys are just getting set up with the hoses, but haven't hit it with water yet. WOW. I'm thinking the whole house will be gone before they finish this. So are they. The guys at the fence are screaming at us, climb over, climb over. Yeah right,, it's too tall for the dogs, and I'll die with my dogs if it comes to that. By now incredible amounts of smoke are coming out of the soffit, and flames might shoot out the same vents any second and fry us. I start to head for the back of the back yard, to hide a safe distance away, when the firemen start cutting the fence apart, making a hole we can escape out.
Finally, really safe. Sue and I unharmed, not really even coughing up smoke at all, and the dogs are out safe too. By then there are 5 trucks there, and about 40 firemen are attacking the house. Really impressive, by the time I get through the fence its out. Still smoking, still looking like the whole attic might be on fire, but it's not. No fire at all in the house attic. They chop holes and go in anyway of course, and hose down the whole attic of the house. But they do it very well, and don't over use the hose. They do a very small amount of damage to the attic, do not load it with water till the ceiling falls in. These guys are GOOD!
By now, in the neighbors yard, I get loaned some shoes, and a hoodie, so I'm dressed again. I see that they saved the house itself, but the garage is seriously toast. The Ford focus inside, also just filled with gas, is a metal husk. The scooter is gone, its literally melted to a puddle so small, its steel bits are hiding under the sheet rock that came down from the roof. My Subaru is not looking well either. It was parked about 20 feet to the side of the garage door, and its entire nose is melted away. Sweet,, we are homeless, and have no cars or motorcycle. Sue has her phone, so I call my brother, where we can stay, and tell him to come and get us. Of course, when he gets there, he can't get past the cops. Hoses all over the road, etc. Eventually he finds the other way into the neighborhood, and walks in. We hang out there for at least a few hours. Now that the house is out, here comes a fireman. He's got our ball python, safe and sound. They start going back in for stuff we need, and eventually let us back in too. They want my Subaru moved, and not only does it move, it drives just fine. Unbelievably, the melted away headlight and turn signals even work. So we drive to my bro's house in the Subaru after all. A real blessing, one car we can drive left.
So, I'll try to make the rest of this story briefer. We are insured, no problems there. Part of why I went silent was not wanting to talk about it here till the settlements were made, and I had my money. The other part was PTSD. Right now, two and a half months later, I had to stop typing for a bit. I was freaking out re living it. This has been very hard, much much harder than I thought it would be. Tons of stuff had to be done, and I'm still not a healthy man. So I worked myself into yet another collapse. My brain barely worked at all for months, and only Jason Kraft showing his true self saved me from being flat out fired. He cut me a ton of slack, for longer than I thought would be tolerated. I still work for E bike kit, but have cut my hours in half or more. I'm doing ok now, but have to be honest about it, my enthusiasm for e bikes has diminished by a LOT.
Staying with my Brother did not work out so great. One of my dogs hates all other dogs except my dogs, and my brother has a Bichon Friese. What we call a one chomper. So keeping two big dogs at his house lasted about three days. Farmers Insurance has been great through the whole thing. They would have had us in a hotel that night, easy peasy. But a hotel with two st bernards was not something we'd even try. Soon I was living in a borrowed RV, in the backyard of the burned house. Sue was still at the brothers house. At least the dogs could start to calm down. Housing was in the works, but took time for Farmers to locate, and get rented, our temporary house. We required not only pets allowed, but a serious fence, and monster dogs allowed. It took about three weeks to get that, get the rental furniture delivered, and move in. Decent house, but small. We took it for the tile floors and tall fence.
Meanwhile, within a few days, a crew was at the house removing everything from the house, all smoke damaged. Both of us took two weeks off work to concentrate on the job at hand. The truth is, we are hoarders. Not quite the house packed to the ceiling, but packed about waist high for sure. Our task to find and get out of the house all the stuff we did not want others touching. Mostly an antique camera collection, about a pallet size pile of photographs, and other priceless stuff. Also wardrobe for the next year at least, because once service masters takes it, we won't get it back clean till the house is finished. Then they move it all back in.
Along the way, meetings with the adjusters, scheduling the car repairs, and lastly, making a list of what was in the garage? You try it sometime, it cant be done. So in the end, it came to shovel and sift. For about two weeks, we worked on it as much as we could stand. For me, about 2 hours a day, for Sue, maybe 30 min. Refer to the PTSD. This was some hard shit to do, but to get all our money, I had to identify our burned stuff. Eventually, the list went to 600+ items.
The short list of expensive stuff, one car, one motorcycle, one ebike, the washer and dryer, a pottery kiln, potters wheel, etc. A full size, fully equipped professional pottery studio. Then my tools, god knew how many wrenches and other hand tools, a dozen or more cordless power tools, and a table packed with ebike stuff. Piles of controllers, boxes full of brakes, shifters, torque arms, cables, connectors, wire, and close to all my bike mechanic tools. Two very nice pedal type bikes, and so on.
Total loss for the house and garage, about $60,000 and to rebuild the house itself, about $105,000. Farmers Insurance is definitely treating us right. There was no need to lawyer up, get an independent adjuster and so on, as many people advised me to do immediately. I'm happy with the settlement, but I did want to wait to see how that went, and have the money in my bank, before putting this story on the internet.
FWIW, the car and the gas scooter were not covered, because of the policy I had. They were not covered for comprehensive, just liability, on the car policy. Car was worth about $2500, and the scooter about a thou. Oh well. They paid out good on the ebike though, enough to replace the car.
Finding a contractor to do the work has been more difficult than I expected. I'm old now, and the few contractors in town I would trust 100%, have retired. Of course,, I'm retired, why would they not be too? But I have found a company I can trust, that is willing to take on a nasty fire job. Most contractors do one, and say never again. Crew members quit on them, get hurt, or costs go far more than expected and the money is not there to get paid.
He's still not started, but he is willing to let me participate, which will put some of this settlement back in my pocket. So far, the house is stripped out, and all the smoke smell is cleaned out. So it will save him a crew week when he starts, possibly next week.
Aside from just rebuild the garage, all the insulation will be removed from the house, and the attic framing painted, including the back side of the sheet rock ceiling. 100% of the electrical will be replaced, including the light fixtures. Everything that was plugged in when the house burned new. In the kitchen, where the smoke damage was the worst, all cabinets new. then the whole house repainted, including all new trim on doors and baseboard. At our expense, we are going to just replace half the doors with new, better ones. Flooring was painted concrete, so we get a repaint on that. The whole house repainted. Outside, half the house will be either brand new stucco, or repainted.
Essentially, 90% of the house will be new, or like new, when we move back in. When we bought, it was not like that, it was a repo in need of quite a bit of work, only some of which, like replacing the doors, ever got done. While the house is empty, I'll be doing some other additional work, moving a closet from a stupid place to a better one, and changing walls in the kitchen to finally arrive at a good kitchen layout.
As for the possessions, we could replace every single item brand new, or take check for current value. The big items will be replaced, like the pottery studio. Other stuff, frankly, was hoarders junk we paid a buck or less for. We don't buy much new, ever. We'll just keep the five bucks they paid rather than buy it back new. With that money, we paid the last six months payments on the house, and the last year and a half on the Subaru.
We are now, I would not call it happy, but we are in a decent house, and have no debts with a lien. Sue will retire in August, and we should still have some cash left over when we have bought all the stuff we want replaced.
As for ES,, expect me to be gone for some time. I'm still busy as hell. Every day I go work on the burned house in the am, then work the E bike kit chat in the afternoons. I just don't have time or energy for ES, and frankly, my interest in e bikes is nearly gone. I do still ride one, my cruiser, and both dirt bikes were in my tin garage out back, and my Lipo batteries were not in the burned garage. They were in my lipo bunker out back. But honestly, when those batteries wear out, I can't see buying more. I'd rather replace the 400 cc scooter, that went 90 miles an hour at this point.