Saltwater damage from Hurricane Ian has left South Florida with a new danger: electric cars that start fires on their own. State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis told ABC News that “without warning,” at least nine EVs have caught fire.
Eric Frederickson of the non-profit Call2Recycle says that Ian was the first big hurricane to hit land in an area where electric vehicles are common.
An electrolyte is a substance that helps electric charge move from one place to another.
When salt water is poured over a fully charged electric battery, a dangerous “salt bridge” can form between the positive anode and the negative cathode.
This could create the conditions for a sudden, erratic transfer of energy, which can cause a short circuit and, in rare cases, a fire that won’t go out.
Even though the fires didn’t do much damage to Florida’s EVs, they have helped the Republican Party in the state.
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) said in a letter sent last week that the Department of Transportation had given “most consumers the possibly fatal misconception that their EVs will continue to work after being submerged in seawater, just like gas-powered cars.”
In another letter to EV makers, Scott said that the risk of fire “has forced local fire departments to take resources away from hurricane recovery to control and contain these dangerous fires.”
Patronis wrote an open letter to Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla, saying that even though these things didn’t happen very often, some of them were “strange and frankly scary.”
For example, E&E News says that six EV fires were put out for the first time in North Collier, Florida, which is a suburb of Naples.
Patronis texted Musk that an EV that was on fire in North Collier kept relighting even though it was regularly doused with “tens of thousands of liters of water.” In the end, it burned up the tow truck.
Putting out a fire in an electric vehicle (EV) takes five or six times as long and uses ten times as much water as putting out a fire in a gas-powered car. EVs also tend to catch fire when you least expect it.
Patronis said that this risk will grow as more cars go electric and as severe storms happen more often. “This is something we might have to deal with as the number of [EVs] goes up,” he told ABC News.
In his letter to Musk, Patronis asked that companies like Tesla, which he said had gotten a lot from government subsidies, do more to solve the problem.
“Unfortunately, we can’t find the people who made the vehicles that could catch fire on their own and put our first responders in danger.”
He told the story of a family who went to Ian and came back to find their house destroyed, not by wind or waves, but by an electric vehicle that exploded in the garage because of a storm surge.
Patronis said, “That’s a risk that requires manufacturers to do more than just tell people to read the owner’s manual.