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Electric car batteries can catch fire days after an accident

Aleanna Siacon, Detroit Free Press on

Published in Automotive News

When a Tesla Model S crashed into a palm tree and caught ablaze just outside of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., last February, firefighters struggled to extinguish the flames and the car reportedly re-ignited multiple times.

Similar stories of electric vehicles bursting into stubborn flames have cropped up from Florida and California to Austria and China.

While electric cars are transforming commuting, the new technology also is turning into a safety challenge for first responders.

According to researchers, lithium-ion batteries are prone to a phenomenon known as thermal runaway -- a process where battery temperatures sharply increase to the point where they catch on fire or explode.

A survey of fire departments across metro Detroit found that most first responders have limited first-hand experience with the issue, coming across few instances of electric car fires -- if any.

Instead, fire officials told the Free Press that they've been keeping up through training, along with using online and mobile resources to map strategy.


Rochester Hills, Mich., Fire Chief Sean Canto said the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) has put together alternative fuel vehicle safety training for fire departments, which is considered "best practices" within the industry.

Those include:

--Locating the car's power source, and breaching the boxes/casing

--Using copious amounts of water to continuously cool the car battery, in addition to conventional fire suppression tools and tactics (like firefighting foam)


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