EV Fires Require More Water, Firefighters Say

Tesla model 3 fire
Tesla model 3 fire | Image by Inside EVs

As electric vehicles become more common, new methods for managing fires associated with them are under review.

Firefighters nationwide are considering letting electric vehicle fires burn themselves out instead of attempting to extinguish them.

General Motors partnered with OnStar and the Illinois Fire Institute in 2022 to expand its EV First Responder Training program. The program teaches local firefighters how to deal with fires involving electric engines, as previously reported by The Dallas Express.

The U.S. Department of Energy reported 149,000 registered electric vehicles in Texas in 2022, putting the state in third place for the highest number of registered light-duty electric vehicles in the country. California took first place, with over 900,000 registered EVs, followed by Florida with more than 167,000.

The International Association of Fire and Rescue Services (CTIF) stated that fires involving EV engines require much more water to extinguish than those involving gas-powered engines.

“Normally, a car fire you can put out with 500 to 1,000 gallons of water,” stated Austin Fire Department division chief Thayer Smith, according to the Independent in a 2021 article.“But Teslas may take up to 30,000-40,000 gallons of water, maybe even more, to extinguish the battery pack once it starts burning.”

Fire departments have implemented various methods to combat EV fires, including “bouncing” water under the vehicle to reach the undercarriage, using blankets, using a sprinkler attachment, and allowing the fire to continue as a controlled burn, according to The Wall Street Journal.

Fire Marshal Andy King of Franklin, Tennessee, told the WSJ that the department used 45,000 gallons of water in September to douse the flames on a Nissan Leaf EV that caught fire while charging.

“I think if we were faced with a similar scenario next time, we might need to let it burn,” said King, per the WSJ.

The CITF said that while EVs may not be more prone to fires than conventional gas-powered cars, they have the potential to catch fire even weeks after a crash.

Brian O’Connor of the National Fire Protection Association told the WSJ that the organization recommended fire code dictates that would require newly constructed parking garages to be equipped with sprinkler systems because of the potential risk of fires from both gas-powered and electric-powered vehicles.

Jason L. Evans, public information officer for Dallas Fire-Rescue, told The Dallas Express in an email that the most practiced method of putting out EV fires is to apply “copious amounts of water to the battery.”

“Battery (lithium-ion) fires use a lot of water because the batteries can get extremely hot, and the only way to keep them from reigniting is to cool them with a constant water stream,” said Evans.

“Firefighters should expect to spend exponentially more time extinguishing an EV fire versus one involving a vehicle with an internal combustion engine. They should also make plans to acquire a permanent water supply like a fire hydrant or additional engine companies,” he said.

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