ELECTRIC VEHICLES PRESENT A REAL FIRE RISK
As EV sales rise, a whole new set of unique fire risks are being unleashed on the community
As the Pime Minister Scott Morrison’s plan to accelerate the sales of electric vehicles is being unrolled over the next decade, emergency services are stealing themselves to fight a completely new set of fire risks that will emerge as EVs become more popular.
Cars catch fire. But data from London fires indicate that EVs are catching fire at twice the rate of petrol or diesel vehicles which are far easier and faster to extinguish.
But what is not generally realised in the broader community is that EV battery fires are prone to start without warning, burn especially ferociously and can take hours or even days to extinguish.
EV fires commonly occur after the battery pack is compromised in a road crash or even while charging. Sometimes they start from an internal fault spontaneously. Ford and Hyundai have already conducted recalls to replace faulty batteries that overheated during charging.
EV fires resulting from what they call “thermal runaways” through the battery pack can burn at 1000 degrees celsius – three times the temperature required for a nuclear power station to make electricity.
EV batteries are made from hundreds of ‘AA-like batteries’ all packed together into one large battery pack. If one battery overheats and catches fire it spreads to the batteries beside it and they in turn ignite the batteries next to them – hence the expression “thermal runaway”.
But EV fires not only produce intense heat, they emit poisonous smoke which is a danger to firefighters and, because it can take so long to make an EV fire safe (up to 24 hours), roads are blocked for long hours causing mass disruptions to traffic.
This has serious ramifications for those who have to fight EV fires and in Europe emergency services have even resorted to dumping burning EVs into skips full of water in an attempt to cool flaring battery packs.
In Denmark fire fighters haul burning EVs into purpose-built containers to douse and isolate the fires and to prevent them from flaring up again which can happen days after it was thought the fire was extinguished.
According to the Confederation of Fire Protection Associations of Europe, firefighters need more than 60,000 litres of water and a flow rate of 1100 litres per minute to even tackle an EV fire and need to prevent the water from flowing into drains because of the toxins the water picks up from the burning batteries.
As more and more EVs are sold the issue becomes more urgent.
The heat of an EV fire is so great that surrounding infrastructure can be destroyed. It does not take much imagination to understand what would be left of a house garaging an EV that caught fire while charging overnight, but authorities are staring down far more damaging consequences of fires where groups of EVs are parked together.
Owners corporations of apartment blocks need to consider whether such intense fires of EVs in basement car parks will compromise their buildings. The same for car park operators.