According to one expert, electric cars left abandoned during Hurricane Ian could lead to dangerous fires.
When batteries contained in electric vehicles become corroded and cause a short, they can spark a fire. During Hurricane Ian, which pummeled the state of Florida for several days last week, many cars, both electric and gas-powered, were abandoned as drivers left the area through alternative transportation or fled to higher ground. Those EVs sitting in water for extended periods of time are susceptible to corrosion, and thus, spontaneous combustion.
On Thursday, the state fire marshal Jimmy Patronis tweeted out a warning to EV owners and unsuspecting bystanders:
"There’s a ton of EVs disabled from Ian. As those batteries corrode, fires start. That’s a new challenge that our firefighters haven’t faced before. At least on this kind of scale. #HurricaneIan."
Patronis also included a video of several firefighters expending perhaps hundreds or even thousands of gallons of water to extinguish a fire that had broken out in one EV.
An unidentified woman, perhaps the person filming, can be heard providing some context to the scene, though some of what she says is difficult to decipher. At one point, she seems to claim that "1,500 gallons" of water had already used on that particular vehicle, and yet the fire was "still going." If she is right, then fires caused by corroded EV batteries could deplete precious water resources that are also needed elsewhere. However, no other sources have confirmed her estimate.
Though EV fires caused by corroded batteries do not appear to be widespread currently, the threat remains real. Local public media outlet WUSF reported back in February that Florida is the state with the second-highest number of EVs. As of June 2021, it had 58,000.
The Biden administration has likewise encouraged EVs, offering a $7,500 tax credit to those Americans who make the transition to EVs from cars with the traditional internal combustion engine. And a new California regulation will ban the sale of new gas-powered vehicles in the state by 2035. Seventeen other states have also passed some form of "low-emission" or "zero-emission" standards similar to California's, though Florida is not among them.
It is unclear whether the batteries within gas-powered vehicles, which are much smaller in size, pose a threat for corrosion and fire.