Why We Can’t Really Talk About Electric Vehicle Fires

Estimated read time 6 min read

This topic is taboo in much of the media.

You’ve likely heard about the wildfire that’s been raging in France since it’s been all over the news while being touted as an example of the ravages of global warming. While it’s tempting to dive into why weather becomes climate at the convenience of alarmists looking to grab power or the debate about how unchecked conservationist policies led to improper forest management and an abundance of fuel to keep the fire raging, there’s another aspect of this case which isn’t getting even a whisper of a mention in American corporate news.

See a Porsche Taycan blast around the Nurburgring here.

lone website claims the original point of ignition for the inferno was an electric vehicle parked by the forest. Little information has been provided about that and most media stories conveniently avoid the topic entirely. However, a few have tried debunking this claim, saying it was a regular internal-combustion-engine car which started the blaze. Either could be true, because both types of vehicles are entirely capable of sparking dry grass simply by parking over it. In my experience, when you start getting close to the truth the media will jump in and try to manage the situation, either choosing to ignore a particular aspect of a story altogether (if not the entire story since it doesn’t fit in the prescribed narrative) or “fact checking” any claims without providing hard evidence.

We don’t know for sure what started the French wildfire, a fact which should raise considerable suspicion, especially if the cause is never mentioned in the news again. After all, electric cars are framed as ecological saviors, the solution to a pestilence of mankind polluting the planet. Actual hard data doesn’t back up that story in the least. And while I could spend thousands of words, if not more, going over why that is, the purpose of this post is to summarize just how dangerous electric vehicle fires are.

Image via YouTube

Whenever I’ve brought up EV fires the apologists immediately like to point to some study which “proves” they don’t catch fire as often as traditional cars. There are many ways to slice data and lie with statistics, but I’m not here to talk frequency or statistical significance. Instead, I’m pointing out a problem the world would be forced to grapple with if the supposed electrification revolution the media and automaker PR departments keep promoting were to finally come to fruition.

Lithium-ion batteries, which we will continue to use for the foreseeable future, aren’t as energy dense as gasoline or diesel stored in a fuel tank. That’s why EVs are so heavy and yet boast pathetic driving ranges in comparison. Counterintuitively, when these batteries catch fire they burn far hotter than gasoline or diesel. This makes fighting such a fire much more difficult, requiring special equipment and techniques. Even with those resources, I’ve been told by firefighters I’ve know it’s still not an easy situation to deal with.

A potent recent example of this principle comes via Hamden, Connecticut when an electric bus caught fire as it sat in a parking lot. The timing was just golden, a day after the Connecticut Clean Air Act passed, which would see thousands of EVs hit public roads in the state. Sadly, a firefighter and two workers were hospitalized as a result of the fire, which quickly engulfed the bus. Lithium-ion battery fires not only are difficult to extinguish because of the chemical process and much higher temperatures involved, they also tend to reignite suddenly, adding to the challenge.

We’ve seen other EV bus fires in France. After the second one in Paris, authorities there decided to park the entire fleet out of an abundance of caution. For those who see electrification as a savior, this was an overreaction. While nobody was hurt in either bus fire, that might not be the case if they continue to run in Paris.

Image via YouTube

A Tesla which had been in an accident in Sacramento, California spontaneously caught fire as it sat in a junkyard. Surely some battery cells had been ruptured in the accident and there’s a procedure to work with that, which might not have been what the salvage yard did – we don’t know the details there. What we do know is when the fire crew showed up to put out the blaze, it kept reigniting. Flipping the EV on its side to extinguish the hotspots still didn’t work. Finally, firefighters dug a pit, put the Tesla in it, then filled that pit with water. It’s estimated 4,500 gallons of water were used to fight the inferno.

Easily the most shocking example of the power of lithium-ion batteries in a fire comes via the Felicity Ace. The cargo ship was loaded with thousands of vehicles, many of them either hybrids or all-electric. A fire broke out and when it reached the batteries it became uncontrollable. The inferno, which broke out on February 16, was finally extinguished on March 1 of this year when the cargo ship sunk while it was being towed back to Portugal.

There have been other shocking stories of electric car fires, people burning alive as they’re trapped inside, battery cells spraying through the air after a high-speed crash and landing inside homes, etc. While plenty of horrific incidents with internal combustion engine vehicles have happened throughout the years, it’s funny that once anyone starts talking about EV fires the apologists start trying to shut it down. Both are concerning and should be discussed.

It’s possible fire departments lack training or proper equipment to fight EV fires. It’s possible the designs of EVs should be altered, maybe an onboard fire suppression system included (something I’ve wondered about regular vehicles many times, to be honest). I don’t have all the solutions, but talking about the problem shouldn’t be shut down just to promote perceived progress.

Ultimately, it likely comes down to money. Automakers stand to make much higher profits on EVs. Others can piggyback on this electrification revolution, from charging station installers to raw material suppliers. There’s a lot of green to be made in “green” energy solutions.

Steven Symes https://writerstevensymes.com/

Steven Symes is an accomplished automotive journalist with a passion for all things related to cars. His extensive knowledge and love for the automotive world shine through in his writing, which covers a diverse range of topics.

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