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EV fires remind industry of associated risk

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Electric vehicles (EVs) appear to have caused multiple fires at manufacturing factories in recent months, sparking a reminder about EV safety.

Most recently, the Detroit Fire Department responded to a three-alarm fire involving lithium-ion batteries at General Motors’ Factory Zero last month, according to Detroit Free Press.

“Our initial investigation indicates a forklift accidentally punctured a container with battery materials, causing the fire,” Tara Stewart Kuhnen, GM spokeswoman, said in an email Wednesday.

The newspaper also reported another fire at the property in October that involved an autonomous electric car. It states the fire department’s report mentions a battery fire.

However, Kuhnen told the newspaper that a non-battery-related component caused the second fire.

Outside Detroit, the Auburn Hills Fire Department responded to a November fire at Chrysler’s Tech Center.

Multiple media reports say Chrysler’s fire involved an EV as well.

Jodi Tinson, Stellantis spokeswoman, said a test mule was damaged in the fire and some of the interior space used for vehicle development sustained smoke damage.  Test mules are used to test vehicle components still under review by manufacturers.

Tinson said in an email Wednesday that there were no injuries during the fire.

“We are grateful for the Auburn Hills Fire Department’s timely response to our call,” Tinson said.

In February, EV fires received widespread attention after CNBC reported on a Ford F-150 Lightning that caught fire in one of the company’s holding lots.

Repair shops aren’t immune to EV battery risks. An EV battery was the suspected cause of a vehicle fire at an auto repair shop in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in October. News reports say the fire took nearly 45 minutes for fire crews to contain.

In July, Suppliers Partnership for the Environment published a report offering safety guidelines for handling EV batteries. Multiple OEMs, including GM, Honda Development and Manufacturing of America, Stellantis, and Toyota, worked on the report.

It said repair shops should look for batteries that:

    • Are dented, punctured or cracked on the outer shell
    • Are leaking fluid from the battery pack
    • Have water damage or corrosion on the terminals
    • Have loose wiring inside the battery pack or sticking out from the pack
    • Show signs the battery was opened and worked on

It also recommended that shops develop plans to respond to thermal runaway fires, chemical leaks, and gas emissions that batteries can cause. Plans should include thermal imaging cameras, four-gas meters, vehicle fire blankets, fire retardants, and overhead sprinkles.

“High-voltage batteries can present significant risks if mishandled. Lithium-ion EV batteries can pose chemical, thermal, and electrical hazards,” the report says.

The Energy Security Agency (ESA) staffs a 24/7 Guidance Center for first responders, towing and recovery, recyclers, salvage yards, and the repair industry to answer questions about how to properly handle EV and hybrid vehicles.

The center can walk through risk assessments and help each party label the vehicles with color-coded stickers that warn others of potential risks.

While media tends to focus on the risk of EV batteries, some research shows EVs may be at less risk of catching fire than internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles.

Last month, AutoinsuranceEZ released a study that found EVs had fewer fires than gas and hybrid vehicles.

According to the study, EVs have 25.1 fires per 100,000 sales, with gas vehicles having 1,529.9 fires and hybrid vehicles having 3,474.5 fires.

Researchers reviewed National Transportation Safety Board, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, and government recall data for the study.

While the study found there are fewer EV fires, researchers still warned about the dangers of EV fires.

“Lithium-ion battery fires in electric cars are significantly harder to put out than gas fires, and most firefighters aren’t familiar with how to put out EV fires since electric cars are relatively new,” the study said.

There’s been a national movement to train firefighters on responding to EV fires due to thermal runaways of the vehicle’s battery.

Last week, a volunteer fire department in Alabama was overwhelmed by the first EV fire in their county, according to a local ABC News report. Eleven other emergency departments were called to assist with the fire, which took 36,000 gallons of water and more than an hour to control. is an application responders can use to find Emergency Service Guides written by OEMs. The guides include proper battery removal and storage guidance and information about what should happen once the vehicle is brought inside the repair facility.

David Willett, chief underwriting officer for Spark Underwriters, said EV and ICE vehicles both share a risk of fire.

“The coverages are no different,” Willett said. “The main issue is whether the person insuring the shop has adequate coverage.”

Pollution cleanup is a critical component of coverage that repair shops should pay attention to, Willett said. He said after any event, such as a fire or natural disaster, repair shops must consider cleanup.

“The very next morning, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] is there to assess whether or not there are any pollutants on site, and they make sure it is cleaned up properly,” Willet said.

Willett said his company increased its pollution cleanup coverage to $200,000 in recent years. He suggests repair shops have a minimum of $100,000.

This will cover cleanup from an EV battery and any other pollutants on site, he said.

Willett said cleanup costs were thought to have reduced after paint became water-based. However, other pollutants have entered the industry, such as EV batteries, he said.

“You get rid of something and other elements creep in,” Willett said.


Photo courtesy of MattGush/iStock

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