NewsLocal News


Colorado fire departments grapple with how to best extinguish EV fires

Electric Vehicles
Posted at 9:45 PM, Jan 10, 2024
and last updated 2024-01-11 08:29:13-05

DENVER — With electric vehicles growing in popularity, Colorado fire departments are grappling with how to handle EV fires due to the complexity of extinguishing them.

Firefighters outside Boston had to use 11,000 gallons of water to put out a recent electric vehicle fire.

An EV fire in Alabama that sparked the day after Christmas took 36,000 gallons. Another EV fire in Tennessee needed 45,000 gallons of water to finally get it out.

In a traditional car fire, it takes 500 to 1,000 gallons of water to extinguish.

With the rapidly growing popularity of electric vehicles, how to handle EV fires is currently the issue.

Data shows EVs are less likely to catch fire than gas-powered vehicles. Electric vehicles are powered by lithium-ion batteries, which contain a highly flammable electrolyte. When those batteries ignite — typically due to a defect or collision — it creates a nasty fire that burns much longer than a traditional car fire.

EV fires can be put out with water, but it takes an awful lot of it.

EV fire-South metro_3.jpeg

Local News

EV starts garage fire in Centennial, South Metro Fire Rescue says

Katie Parkins
9:36 AM, Jan 10, 2024

Denver7 spoke with the two largest fire departments in Colorado about the new challenges of EV fires.

Denver Fire Department (DFD) approaches each EV fire on a case-by-case basis. If the EV is in an isolated place, they let it burn itself out.

"Because there is nothing water is going to do in that situation," said Denver Fire Dept. Captain JD Chism.

If the burning vehicle is near other things that it could ignite, Chism said, "Then, of course, we're going to put on as much water as we need to protect anybody or anything that's in that area."

South Metro Fire Rescue (SMFR), which serves Arapahoe, Douglas and Jefferson counties, also lets the EV burn if it's empty and in a safe place.

SMFR decided on this approach in the last two years because of the potential discharge of toxic materials in a lithium-ion battery fire.

"What that does, if it gets in the battery and mixes with that, it can create a hazardous material situation," said Div. Chief Scott Richardson. "So in effect, if we're putting thousands of gallons of water on something we can't put out, then we're just pushing the water into places we don't want it to go."

SMFR also uses car fire blankets that they place over the burning EV. The blankets buy firefighters enough time to get the vehicle to a safer place.

The race is on globally to find a way to quickly and reliably extinguish burning lithium-ion batteries. Work is underway on an "encapsulator agent," which is mixed with water, separates fuel from oxygen and quickly absorbs the heat. Firefighters in Belgium use a giant tank. They bring in a crane, pick up the burning EV and plunk it in water until the fire is out.

"Unfortunately, there's not a lot of proof, just a lot of ideas right now. And nobody's come to, 'This works 100 percent of the time,'" said Chism. "Everybody is trying to solve this problem. Everybody in the world is trying to solve what are we going to do."

SMFR's hazardous materials team is meeting with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) this week to come up with best practices that could end up being the standard nationwide.

Colorado fire departments grapple with how to best extinguish EV fires

D7 follow up bar 2460x400FINAL.png
The Follow Up
What do you want Denver7 to follow up on? Is there a story, topic or issue you want us to revisit? Let us know with the contact form below.