Electric vehicle fires are a new problem for firefighters…

Electric vehicle fires are a new problem for firefighters…

The Tesla fire in early June took firefighters in Sacramento, California by surprise. Extinguished, the fire continued to renew. Photo Sacramento City Fire District/Handout/AFP

A car that caught fire more than three weeks after arriving at the junkyard, 17,000 liters of water, emergency construction of a mini-pool to submerge electric batteries: The Tesla fire in early June took the Sacramento District Fire. Branch. Extinguished, the fire continued to renew. Even after turning the car on its side and directing water directly at the batteries. “We did not expect that we would have to deal with so many problems,” says Parker Wilborn, captain of the California metropolitan fire department. With more and more hybrid and electric vehicles on the roads, “we are entering a new era of fires, we must adapt and find solutions,” he said.

Because “every second counts” during the incident, General Motors (GM) announced last Thursday that it was expanding its first aid training program to electric vehicles in the US and Canada. The group currently sells four models in this category and plans to offer thirty by 2025. The goal is to provide technical information about batteries, share best practices, and “dispel misconceptions,” GM’s press release explains: Consider shutting down the engine, for example, as EVs don’t make noise, or fighting the idea that you can’t pour water for batteries.

Electric and hybrid vehicles are still a minority on American roads, but they accounted for almost 10% of cars bought in the US last year, according to Cox Automotive. The US traffic safety agency NHTSA says it doesn’t have enough data on battery-powered car fires to draw conclusions. But the latter are a priori no more frequent and dangerous than those of gasoline cars, the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) assures. On the other hand, they require certain procedures, adds the organization, which has been offering special training since 2010.

Thermal runaway

Much more water is usually needed, around 11,350 to 30,300 liters, according to Tesla’s guide for first responders. Which is not always easy in rural areas where there are no fire hydrants.

Batteries also often ignite again hours or even days after the first incident, due to a phenomenon known as “thermal runaway” that can occur in damaged lithium-ion batteries. Tesla recommends monitoring battery temperature for at least 24 hours after a fire. “Firefighters are used to the risks (associated with electricity), says Michael Gorin of the NFPA. But not in the car. »

Manufacturers are required to publish a first aid manual for every model they make. In a report published in late 2020, the US vehicle accident investigation agency NTSB recommended that manufacturers of vehicles with lithium-ion batteries follow a common format with specific information on how to turn off and control a fire. In early June, she indicated that only eight manufacturers out of 22 interested had fully taken into account her recommendations. Firefighters arrive at accident scenes “and don’t know what to do,” said Michael Brooks, legal director of the Automotive Safety Center. “How to evacuate a passenger from a burning electric car? How do you know how fire can spread? he wonders.

In this photo taken on June 25, a Ford Fusion hybrid car caught fire north of Austin, Texas. Susanna Cordeiro/AFP

Bulk recall

Just like traditional cars, cars with batteries can also catch fire when parked. Last summer, GM advised owners of some electric Chevrolet Bolts not to leave them indoors and charge them unattended overnight before starting a massive model recall. Malfunctions of batteries produced by the South Korean group LG under certain circumstances can cause a fire. Eventually GM had to put the Bolt on hold for several months.

In April, the NHTSA initiated a special procedure for LG batteries related to several brand recalls by Volkswagen, Chrysler (Stellantis Group), Hyundai, GM and Mercedes. Affects all forms of transportation powered by electric batteries: to prevent fires, the agency that controls social housing in New York City has proposed to ban all electric bicycles or electric bicycle batteries, at least the same name as mopeds, in apartments and public places.

Juliette MICHEL and

Joshua MELVIN/AFP

Source: L Orient Le Jour

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