Electric cars continue to ignite in Florida

Hurricane Ian caused billions of damage and upended lives, but few expected it to cause electric vehicles ignite.

But that’s exactly what happened.

In the days following Hurricane Ian, saltwater flooding in coastal areas caused lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles to burn out.

The Naples fire brigade, for example, had to put out six flames in electric vehicles that had been submerged in seawater.

Firefighter spokeswoman Heather Mazurkiewicz said firefighters need “thousands and thousands” of gallons of water to put out electric vehicle fires, far more than a typical gas-powered car fire would require.

Worse still, one of the electric vehicles ignited, destroying two houses.

Related: This solar-powered town in Florida was built to withstand hurricanes. Did it work?

Why electric vehicles burn

Eric Wachsman, director of the Maryland Energy Institute, told CNBC that lithium-ion battery cells have electrodes close together and are filled with a flammable liquid electrolyte.

When battery cells are damaged or defective, “this flammable liquid can go into what’s called a thermal runaway situation, where it begins to boil, causing a fire,” Wachsman said.

For this reason, some companies, such as Tesla and Ford, are turning to lithium iron phosphate (LFP) batteries, which are far less combustible.

But that doesn’t stop cars that already have lithium-ion batteries from catching fire.

Florida takes action

To protect first responders and firefighters, Jack Danielson, executive director of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, ordered those “not involved in immediate rescue missions” to identify flooded electric vehicles with lithium batteries. -ion ​​and move them “at least 50 feet”. other structures, vehicles and fuels.

Senator Rick Scott also wrote a letter to US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, D, calling for action.

“This emerging threat has forced local fire departments to divert resources from hurricane recovery to control and contain these dangerous fires,” Scott wrote. “Alarmingly, even after car fires have been extinguished, they can reignite in an instant.”

There are more than 95,000 electric vehicles registered in Florida, the second highest number in the country.

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