Florida official: EVs starting fires in hurricane aftermath

Hurricane Ian

(NewsNation) — Firefighters in western Florida are responding to numerous calls concerning electric vehicle fires after they’ve been stuck in the flood waters caused by Hurricane Ian, according to a state official.

On Twitter, Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s state fire marshal and chief financial officer, shared videos of fire crews putting out electric vehicle fires. He said when the batteries corrode after contacting salt water, they can start fires that can be difficult to put out.

“It was a natural disaster,” Patronis told NewsNation. “And we learn something from every single natural disaster. We truly do. And what we are learning from this one is EVs are not compatible with salt water. When they become inoperable, when they have shorts, when they have corrosion and they are in your garage, as a lot of cars were because of this storm surge event, they become now a fire hazard for your house.”

Patronis urged residents who still have EVs in their garage that may have been exposed to salt water to get them towed onto the driveway, so they don’t burn their homes down if the batteries do ignite.

Flooding ravaged the area in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian. Flood waters hit upward of 18 feet in some places. When the cars were submerged, salt water filled the batteries.

“So you have the stored energy in the batteries,” said Stephen Gollan with Fort Lauderdale Fire Rescue. “Just because the vehicle is submerged doesn’t mean the energy is discharged in any way. Anytime you mix electrical components and salt water together, it is a recipe for disaster.”

North Collier Fire Rescue in Naples, Florida, had to cut open a Tesla to spray down a battery that had ignited. North Collier firefighters have seen four EV car fires this week.

“I think as we have moved over to electric vehicles, this is the first time we have seen anything like this,” Gollan said.

While the problem is unique to western Florida, there have been a number of instances reported overseas of EV batteries catching fire.

In 2018, a lot full of Maseratis started on fire in Italy’s Port of Savona following flooding in the area. The salt water came into contact with lithium batteries and caught on fire, according to several media reports.

In February of this year, a cargo ship carrying 4,000 luxury cars caught fire in the Atlantic Ocean, according to Reuters. The lithium-ion batteries on board the ship were the cause of the fire, though it was not clear what caused them to ignite.

Electric vehicle fires can take as much as 10 times the amount of water to extinguish, and fire departments have been playing catch-up as EVs become more popular.

The lithium-ion batteries can be susceptible to “thermal runaway,” which is an uncontrollable self-heating type of fire that takes more water to extinguish.

The emergency response guide for the Tesla Model S states it could take between 3,000 and 8,000 gallons of water to put out a fire.

Gas-powered car fires need less than 1,000 gallons of water, NewsNation reported earlier this summer.

While they may need more resources, electric car fires are typically less common in normal conditions.

Research published by AutoinsuranceEZ notes that for every 100,000 EV cars, there are 25 reported fires, compared to about 1,500 car fires for every 100,000 gas-powered cars. Hybrid vehicles had a higher rate, with nearly 3,500 fires for every 100,000 cars.

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