Video: e-Bike fire sparked by li-ion batteries highlights volatile fuel load dangers
When lithium-ion batteries are stored in bulk, the volatile fuel load presents a major challenge for firefighters
The fire service is witnessing a new type of fire with the inclusion of lithium-ion batteries in many products. These types of batteries are used to power a variety of vehicles, from electric bikes (e-bikes) to city buses. These new types of batteries are also found inside buildings, which increases potential fuel loads.
When lithium-ion batteries are recharging, they can produce a high amount of heat. If batteries are not being charged with the correct type of charger, they can overheat and ignite a fire.
Where the batteries are stored while charging makes a difference as well. If not in a ventilated area – like on a table or desktop for a cell phone – the item being charged becomes a heat source, which can ignite other products or surfaces. For example, if a cell phone is laying on a pile of clothes while charging, the clothing could ignite due to the generated heat from the battery.
The video in today’s article depicts a fire that took place at a shop that sold e-bikes, powered by lithium-ion batteries. In this incident, the lithium-ion batteries are quite larger than a cell phone, and therefore can produce more heat when recharging. The greater fuel load present contributes to both a quicker growth phase and a quicker flashover phase achieved.
What makes these incidents so challenging is that lithium-ion batteries are not easily extinguished by water. Firefighters have witnessed cars powered by lithium-ion batteries burning for hours or days where water was applied with no effect on the blaze. However, the fuel load for a vehicle burning in a parking lot or on a street is relatively isolated compared to vehicles or lithium-ion batteries stored inside a building, where the exposure of the building and its contents will contribute to fire’s rapid spread.
Bottom line: the fire service is facing a new type of volatile fuel load, and we must be ready to respond.
After watching this video and reading about this news story with your company, department leaders should:
1. Research. Research new products that are available to the fire service that will assist with extinguishing lithium-ion battery fires. Check out these resources:
- Podcast: Electric vehicle fires – Products, strategies and the power of time
- Electric vehicle fires: Where the waiting game wins
- Fact or fiction? Debunking electric vehicle myths
2. Learn from others. Research other incidents that have occurred with lithium-ion batteries to see how the local fire department mitigated the situation. Start with these recent incidents and follow-up analyses: