Electric vehicle and battery fires on the rise in St. George trigger “new problems” for firefighters

ST. GEORGE- Electric battery fires have increased, triggering an issue that is causing problems for first responders, St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker said.

File: St. George Fire Chief Robert Stoker talks about recent rise in electric battery fires and safety tips, St. George, Utah, October 22, 2020 | Photo by Cody Blowers, St. George News

“Over the past two months there has been a significant increase in fires caused by electric car batteries and smaller lithium batteries,” Stoker said.

This increase points to an ongoing problem with electric vehicle fires that has sparked a national debate about the risk to first responders and those standing at the scene.

The debate started around 2011 when a Chevy Volt caught fire during a test drive. The problem grew again around 2017 as electric vehicles became more prevalent on US roads.

Last April, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigation into more than 138,000 vehicles fitted with batteries made by South Korea’s LG Energy Solution.

The investigation was launched after five major automakers recalled the vehicles due to malfunctioning batteries, causing fires and stalls.

On January 13, 2021, the Security Administration announced in a press release that lithium-ion batteries posed dangers to first responders.

“The hazards of electrical shock and battery re-ignition/fire arise from ‘stuck’ energy remaining in a damaged battery,” the press release reads.

New recommendations from state and national safety organizations suggest letting the vehicle continue to burn while preventing the fire from spreading to nearby objects and locations.

“There’s still a lot of training and research going on, and there are different recommendations on how to extinguish an electric vehicle fire,” Stoker said. “According to Tesla, their recommendation is to use copious amounts of water with a recommendation of 3,000 to 8,000 gallons of water applied directly to the battery.”

Tesla representatives and the Vehicle Safety Guide advise that after the fire is out, continue to douse the battery with water for at least 30 minutes and monitor it for 24 hours.

File: Electric car fires presented ‘new’ problems for first responders, St. George, Utah, July 29, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

“However, we recently discovered that we were using 3,000 to 6,000 gallons of water to extinguish an electric vehicle fire,” he said.

This presents a “new problem” for firefighters as their unit is carrying 750 gallons of water. And the fire department must request help from other units.

On Nov. 1, St. George firefighters were dispatched on an electric scooter that was charging and lighting up. The owner of the scooter told firefighters he had put out the fire with a fire extinguisher. However, the fire increased in intensity instead of extinguishing.

“The extinguisher is usually used for the start or the starting point of the fire,” Stoker said, adding that most extinguishers use a dry chemical to extract oxygen from the fire, but that does not cool the fire. fire.

He said the problem they find is that lithium-ion electric batteries get extremely hot, which means that when the chemical dissipates, the oxygen comes back in and the fire can reignite.

Tesla also recommends against using “foam” or “submerging” the vehicle.

In addition to the November 1 fire, another fire on October 13 in a community of over 55s in Dixie Downs Road involved an e-bike being charged. The battery overheated, causing a fire.

Stoker said many small battery fires could have been avoided by taking precautionary measures.

For small batteries, which are found in items such as e-bikes, scooters and remote control cars, he said never leave them unattended. Charge them in places like the garage or outdoors, away from anything flammable, like carpeting, which has been an issue in recently reported fires where batteries or objects have been left charging on the carpet.

The afterimage of lithium electric batteries at the scene of an electric scooter fire, St. George, Utah, November 1, 2022 | Photo by Nick Yamashita, St. George News

The charging area should also be in a well-ventilated area away from combustibles, he said.

If the burning object is plugged into the wall, it is best to turn off the circuit breaker of the outlet, then use water on the fire.

“If there are any questions, it’s best to get out of the house and call 911,” Stoker said.

Regarding electric vehicle fires, Stoker said everyone should get out of the vehicle and establish sufficient distance because other vehicle components, such as airbags, can explode.

“Don’t come back for anything, like a cell phone,” he added.

Once away from the vehicle and clear of oncoming traffic, dial 911.

“What helps us is that they tell us what kind of fire, like it’s an electric vehicle on fire,” he said. “Then we can get the help and resources we need.

All electric and hybrid cars come with manuals with designated sections of fire guidelines. Stoker said operators should review these guidelines because electric batteries present a new problem with varying recommendations.

“This is not a normal fire,” he said.

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