A row of Skip e-scooters sit near a loading dock bay at a maintenance warehouse on Evans Avenue in the Bayview District on Monday, June 3, 2019. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Before a Skip e-scooter burned in D.C., another caught fire at the company’s SF warehouse

Local officials call for transparency after records reveal previously undisclosed ‘scooter fire’

The e-scooter fire in Washington, D.C. that went viral last week apparently wasn’t the first time a Skip vehicle has been engulfed in flames.

San Francisco had a flaming Skip scooter of its own last December just two months after the company launched its service in The City.

The San Francisco Examiner obtained Fire Department records through a public records request on Wednesday that show the “scooter fire” broke out Dec. 28 at the Skip warehouse at 1698 Evans Ave. in the Bayview.

But after this fire, Skip did not pull hundreds of its vehicles off the streets of San Francisco and Washington, D.C. as it did last week when the battery on its e-scooter caught flames on the East Coast.

No photo of the incident spread on social media like wildfire, and Skip did not tell city officials about the incident. Now, transit officials are concerned the scooters may spontaneously burst into flame.

Ed Reiskin, director of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency said it was “troubling” that his staff had not been told about the fire.

“We’re going to want assurances from them that their e-scooters are safe,” he said.

The cause of the e-scooter fire is unclear. The Fire Department did not investigate because it was not deemed suspicious, and Skip declined to provide details on the incident.

“Unfortunately, accidents of various types are known to occur in maintenance and repair facilities and warehouses,” a Skip spokesperson said in a statement. “Our staff is trained to respond appropriately to all incidents and Skip believes it is building a best in class repair and maintenance operators team.

Skip is one of two companies that are permitted to operate e-scooters in San Francisco. In its permit language, the SFMTA lays out a requirement for e-scooter companies to make “good faith effort to provide” data necessary for evaluating its permit to operate, according to SFMTA documents.

“This is unacceptable that they did not let SFMTA know or apologize to the community,” said Supervisor Shamann Walton, who represents the Bayview neighborhood where the Skip warehouse is located.

“This is a problem and they will be hearing from our office,” Walton said.

Skip would not be the first e-scooter company to see faulty hardware cause its vehicles to burst into flames.

After some of Lime’s e-scooters caught fire late last year, the tech mobility company pinpointed a welding issue as the cause, the LA Times reported.

Skip said it removed its e-scooters from San Francisco and Washington, D.C. to investigate the cause of the fire on the other coast “until (Skip) can share results with (Washington, D.C.’s District Department of Transportation) and SFMTA.”

Skip returned its e-scooters to the streets of San Francisco Tuesday, and is in the process of bringing them back to the nation’s capitol.

The company made the decision to remove them after the Washington Post snapped a photo of the e-scooter on fire in front of a coffee shop in downtown Washington, D.C. on May 30.

“We currently have no reason to believe that this affects any other vehicles in our fleet,” Skip wrote publicly, at the time.

Details on San Francisco’s e-scooter fire are hard to come by with Skip’s silence. But the Examiner obtained a Computer Aided Dispatch report on the incident from the Department of Emergency Management, an emergency call reporting fire alarms at the warehouse and dispatcher audio of the response to the call that shed light on the incident.

The Fire Department responded to the Skip warehouse when a fire alarm activated at the building at around 4:42 p.m. on Dec. 28.

Within 10 minutes, a fire official told dispatch that the blaze was out.

“There’s an outside extinguished scooter fire,” the official can be heard saying in the dispatch audio.

Guy Gayle, a warehouse manager who works across the street from Skip’s warehouse on Evans Avenue and Quint Street, told the Examiner he has seen Skip employees evacuating their building at least twice.

The first time occurred in December, he said.

“One of their employees literally came running out saying, ‘there’s a fire! There’s a fire!’” Gayle said.

Gayle said he heard the employees mention a scooter on fire. About a dozen or so employees evacuated “at different rates of speed,” Gayle added.

The second time employees evacuated on a different day, Gayle said “people weren’t in a panic, but quickly walking out.”

Gayle said he did not see a fire himself.

The Computer Aided Dispatch report, which the Examiner obtained from emergency officials, also suggests that a scooter was on fire.

“OUTSIDE EXTINGUISHED SCOOTER FIRE — CANCEL UNITS IN ON OWN,” the CAD report reads.

Baxter said Skip’s warehouse fire did not trigger an investigation into the cause of the fire. Such an investigation would only be triggered if fire officials thought it was deliberately set — if the fire was “suspicious or nefarious,” he said.

The only way to know for sure what led Skip’s e-scooters to erupt in flame would be for a Skip staffer to come forward and say how.

When pressed again for details, a Skip spokesperson would only reply, “We don’t comment on warehouse incidents.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to include additional information.

joe@sfexaminer.com

mbarba@sfexaminer.com

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