How to put out a burning electric car

Both electric cars and gasoline-fueled cars are susceptible to fires. However, electric vehicles possess a distinct characteristic: due to their lithium-ion batteries and intricate components, extinguishing these fires can often take more than a day, rendering conventional protocols ineffective—like dousing them with water from a hose.

In the following discourse, we shall delve into the causes, repercussions, and potential remedies concerning the unfortunate event of an electric car catching fire.

burning Tesla

Electric car fires

Lithium-ion batteries have emerged as the prevailing standard in electric vehicles and a substantial portion of hybrids, with solid-state batteries remaining on the horizon as a future possibility. Despite being meticulously crafted under stringent quality controls, these batteries are not immune to the peril of igniting due to a phenomenon known as “thermal runaway.”

This phenomenon unfolds when an internal or external short circuit occurs within the battery. This triggers a sequence within the battery cells—a surge in temperature coupled with a cascading chemical reaction.

electric car

The heat engendered by such a short circuit has the potential to compromise the battery’s structural integrity, thereby releasing flammable gases and, in the most severe cases, culminating in a fire. This ignition can manifest spontaneously, without any apparent trigger, or it can be induced by physical shocks like those encountered in vehicular collisions.

Of all potential risks to the batteries in electric and hybrid vehicles, impact-based accidents stand as the most formidable. Consequently, manufacturers meticulously engineer their vehicles with the dual goal of safeguarding passengers and shielding the battery. This impetus often translates into positioning the battery beneath the passenger compartment—a strategic choice driven by safety statistics that identify this region as the least susceptible to crashes and the most amenable to isolation within a reinforced protective enclosure.

Irrespective of the ignition’s root cause, such fires possess an intrinsic propensity for swift propagation. Addressing them necessitates the implementation of tailored safety protocols for extinguishment.

Protocol to put out the fire

One might assume that if an electric car were to catch fire, the conventional response would involve the fire department arriving with hoses to quell the flames. However, this protocol isn’t the most suitable course of action for such incidents.

As previously discussed, lithium batteries possess an intrinsic resistance to extinguishment, persisting in combustion even when submerged in water. In fact, it’s strongly advised against using water in such scenarios. The introduction of water can trigger a chemical reaction with the battery’s internal constituents, potentially exacerbating the fire and exacerbating the situation.

Past experiences of combating electric car fires along roadways have revealed the need for an extensive duration—averaging around 25 to 30 hours—and an immense volume of water, exceeding 9,000 liters. These situations also demand a substantial team of firefighters. Established protocols for addressing these fires underscore that the sole safe method of extinguishing them is through the complete submersion of the entire vehicle within a water tank, maintaining this state for a continuous span of 24 hours.

For instance, a recent incident in Mallorca serves as an illustration:

“The Palma Fire Brigade initiated the firefighting effort, subsequently taken over by the Mallorca Fire Brigade stationed in the Llucmajor area. Over the course of several hours, water and foam were relentlessly applied by firefighters to envelop the car; however, these attempts were in vain. Just when it seemed the fire had been quelled, the battery would reignite, repeating the cycle. The firefighters were acutely aware that established protocols necessitate the submersion of the entire vehicle within a water tank for a 24-hour duration, as the sole effective approach to extinguishment. This decisive course of action was duly executed.

(…) Using a crane, the firefighters transported the vehicle to an isolated parking area on Cedre de Son Verí street. Positioned within a capacious container, the car was enshrouded in water—a process intended to endure for a full day.”