Last week, Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis released public safety tips on lithium ion battery fires and the risk these batteries pose to the public following saltwater submersion following Hurricane Idalia.
Lithium ion batteries are often used in electric vehicles (EVs), electric scooters, golf carts and power tools. Since Hurricane Idalia made landfall, there have been multiple reports of EV fires caused by saltwater intrusion.
The Florida Department of Financial Services also hosted a Lithium Ion Battery Symposium to cover a broad range of lithium ion battery related topics, and risk exposures, that are critical to Florida’s first responder community.
“In some Hurricane Idalia impacted areas, there was record-high storm surge and Floridians in this area need to be aware of the risk that EVs can pose to the public,” Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis said. “As we saw with Hurricane Ian, these EV fires are uniquely dangerous, because unlike a combustion engine, the fire will keep reigniting. Moreover, it’s especially dangerous if there’s an EV, golf cart, or scooter in a storm ravaged home. The battery system can become compromised, prompting a fire, which is again, something we really don’t experience with combustion engines. As storm impacted families are returning to their homes and beginning the difficult process of rebuilding their lives, they need to take extra precautions around EVs, golf carts or scooters that were submerged in stormwater: take steps to move it from your house with a professional, do not try to turn it back on, do not unplug or plug it in, and make sure the tow truck operator knows how to deal with EVs. Improperly moving an EV can recharge the batteries, potentially creating a fire.”
SAFETY TIPS FROM THE STATE FIRE MARSHAL’S OFFICE:
- If your vehicle is smoking or on fire, call 911.
- Vehicles submerged in salt water are susceptible for the battery to start “thermal runaway.” This process is demonstrated when the car appears to start smoking or catch on fire.
- Always follow the manufacturer’s recommendations and never drive or operate a vehicle that was submerged. Follow the specific vehicles manufacturer recommendations for submerged vehicles.
- If your vehicle was submerged and housed in a garage or parked adjacent to other structures or vehicles you can do the following to limit the potential of an incident:
- Do not turn on the EV/Hybrid Vehicle if it was submerged
- Do not charge an EV that was submerged
- Do not attempt to open the battery pack at any time
- In addition, if your home or business has an energy storage system that was submerged, shut the power off to the unit, and contact the manufacturer for information. If it is showing signs of white smoke, contact 9-1-1.
Firefighters are limited in their ability to extinguish any electric vehicle when the battery pack is on fire or is in thermal runaway. The Fire Service may consider allowing the vehicle to run through thermal runaway and not actively work to extinguish the fire if the vehicle is isolated and there is no immediate threat to life or property, once the thermal runaway process starts it is very difficult to extinguish with water and may take up to three hours.
Following Hurricane Ian last year, 21 fires were associated with EVs from Hurricane Ian. Additionally, the CFO issued a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg urging the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) to take steps to protect first responders. The State Fire Marshal’s Office has also been coordinating with public and private sector partners to develop best practices and identify ways to mitigate threats posed by fires associated with lithium ion batteries.