This deliberately provocative title immediately came to mind when I discovered that a house was saved from an electric car fire while I witnessed live the ruin of another where the VMC had overheated. . In both cases, precautions, rapid intervention, and suitable tools can really make the difference.
Memory of a fire caused by a VMC
About five years ago, I was visiting an exhibition with friends and my children in a Breton town. It was summer, a Sunday, around noon. White smoke began to rise from the roof of a nearby house. Immediately notified, the firefighters, whose relocated station was located about twenty kilometers away, arrived approximately twenty minutes later.
In front of the owners’ little daughter, in tears, the fire fighters made the reasoned choice for safety’s sake to let the roof catch fire before operating the fire hoses. The entire floor ultimately disappeared in flames, with the rest heavily damaged by water. The investigation which followed revealed that the controlled mechanical ventilation (VMC) system was overheating.
The same year, my insurer warned its members against these devices which would constitute one of the main sources of fire in a house, if not the first. Often installed in the attic, in inaccessible places, with a smoldering fire that could flare up at any time, firefighters prefer to protect the lives, including of their troops, when the house is empty. There usually isn’t much left at the end.
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A car on fire in a garage
On January 11, 2024, Colorado firefighters published a video of an intervention on their YouTube channel. A 2019 Jaguar I-Pace caught fire while charging alongside another car in the garage of a single-family home. We immediately imagine that housing has been there too. No way. The team of the South Metro Fire Rescue Centennial first sought to put out the flames, allowing them access to the electric car.
With lithium-ion batteries, this is generally insufficient, because heat continues to spread, announcing an imminent return of the flames. In this case, the lull made it possible to pull the vehicle, still smoking, with its rear end already unrecognizable, out of the garage. A fire blanket was applied over it, depriving the surroundings of the pack of oxygen.
The machine was then taken to a scrapyard with instructions to leave it wrapped in this way until the estimated disappearance of any risk of further fire. Several elements explain the saving of the house: timely arrival on the scene, easy access to the fire point, efficient equipment, good knowledge of the problem, good decisions made. Each fire disaster is unique: its course can be very different with only a few seconds difference.
In addition to potentially allowing flames to be brought under control much more quickly, the use of a fire blanket can significantly limit the quantities of water used, the chemical pollution of the battery through the runoff that will result, and the volume of harmful gases sent into the atmosphere.
I am not at all surprised by the results obtained by the Colorado firefighters. A few years ago, the lithium-ion battery of an electric bike in our home suffered a problem that we only discovered several days later. To protect it from swallow droppings, it was covered with a very thick old sheet and folded several times. We did smell a strong and unpleasant odor of chemicals, but the premises were shared with a person who was using a powerful weedkiller at the time, which he mixed himself on site.
It was only when we removed the protection from the eBike that we understood what had happened. Still white on top, the sheet was black at the battery level and slightly brown elsewhere. The plastic casing then became cold again, completely deformed and welded to the metal frame of the cycle. The smell that emanated from it stung the nose terribly. Probably more than sixty years old, the cotton fabric fortunately played the role of fire blanket perfectly.
Equipment that is becoming essential
Are all fire stations equipped with fire blanket? I don’t know, but it would be nice if that were the case, with several copies. However, the price is high, as I have seen. on the Denios website. The price list starts at more than 1,600 euros for protection in silicate fabric with lasting heat resistance of 1,150° C, and for a shorter time at 1,300° C.
The dimensions of 4 x 3 meters are, however, insufficient to wrap a vehicle up to the level of its base, as the Colorado brigade did to transport the burned vehicle by truck. In 8 x 6 m, we spend 5,000 euros. It is expensive in absolute terms, but by allocating to the firefighters even just 2 to 5 euros per electric car sold, the financing would be almost transparent.
It would also be beneficial if electric motorists could also have personal access to such protection. There, on the other hand, the prices are frankly dissuasive. Perhaps insurance companies could work on this problem to come up with more affordable solutions.
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