It seems counterintuitive, but EVs that have been inundated with salt water can catch fire. This proved to be a problem in Florida following Hurricane Ian, which inundated parts of the state last month.
Now Florida officials are looking for answers. This week, US Senator Rick Scott wrote about the issue to the Department of Transportation and electric vehicle manufacturers. In a letter to Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, Scott wrote:
In addition to the damage caused by the storm itself, saltwater flooding in several coastal areas had other destructive consequences in the aftermath of Hurricane Ian by causing lithium-ion batteries to spontaneously combust and ignite. ion of flooded electric vehicles (EVs). This emerging threat has forced local fire departments to divert resources from hurricane recovery to control and contain these dangerous fires. Car fires from electric vehicles have proven to be extremely dangerous and last for an extended period of time, in many cases taking up to six hours to extinguish. Alarmingly, even after the car lights are turned off, they can come back on in an instant. Sadly, some Florida homes that survived Hurricane Ian have now been destroyed by fires caused by flooded electric vehicles.
Scott asked Buttigieg what guidance his department had provided — or asked electric vehicle manufacturers to provide — to consumers, as well as the protocols he had developed for automakers themselves.
Jimmy Patronis, CFO and Florida State Fire Marshal, also weighed in on the matter. Last week, he wrote to Jack Danielson, Executive Director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, asking for “immediate advice” and noting, “In my experience, Southwest Florida uses a significant number of electric vehicles, and if those electric vehicles were left behind, exposed to storm surge, and sitting in garages, there is a risk of fire.
He noted that, based on his research, “much of the submerged vehicle guidance does not address the specific risks associated with exposure of electric vehicles to salt water.” He added that earlier this month, “I joined North Collier Fire Rescue…and saw with my own eyes an electric vehicle continuously ignite and re-ignite, as fire crews hosed down the vehicle with tens of thousands of gallons of water.”
He also has warned that “Electric vehicles can be a ticking time bomb.”
On Twitter, Patronis shared a video of firefighters trying to put out a burning Tesla. He wrote in the tweet: “There are a ton of electric vehicles disabled by Ian. As these batteries corrode, fires break out. This is a new challenge that our firefighters have never faced before. At least on this kind of scale.
In a response to Patronis, Danielson wrote:
Specific salt water immersion test results show that salt bridges can form inside the battery and provide a path for short circuits and self-heating. This can lead to fire ignition. As with other forms of battery degradation, the time period for this transition from self-heating to fire ignition can vary considerably.
It may be helpful for people not involved in immediate rescue missions to identify flooded vehicles with lithium-ion batteries and move them at least 50 feet from any structure, vehicle or combustible.
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