It’s unknown how many cars in total may have been impacted throughout areas in the state affected by Ian, which hit Florida as a Category 4 storm at the end of September.
The fires were apparently sparked as conductive saltwater poured over flooded cars and their charged lithium-ion batteries. Saltwater can create a dangerous “salt bridge” between the positive and negative points of the battery, which has the potential to short-circuit and start fires.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or NHTSA, has warned that EVs can ignite weeks after contact with saltwater. Some tow truck companies have refused to pick up water-damaged EVs, ABC News reported Thursday.
Fires in electrical vehicles run extremely hot and are challenging to extinguish.
Six vehicles in Naples burned for “hours and hours” and required “thousands upon thousands” of gallons of water to extinguish — a far more intensive battle than one posed by a gas-powered car, a spokesperson for a local fire department told E&E News on Friday.
At least one electric vehicle reignited after flames were extinguished, destroying two houses that had survived the storm, according to officials.
Jimmy Patronis, Florida’s chief financial officer and state fire marshal, warned early this month about the problem in a tweet. He shared a video of firefighters in Naples extinguishing a vehicle fire.
Patronis said “a ton” of EVs were disabled by the storm. The fires are a “new challenge that our firefighters haven’t faced before,” he noted.
Patronis sent letters to the NHTSA and EV manufacturers with pointed questions about the fires. In a message to Tesla CEO Elon Musk on Monday, he complained about the potential of EVs to “spontaneously combust” and described the recent fires as “surreal, and frankly, scary.”
Sen. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), a member of his chamber’s Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, also sent letters this month to EV manufacturers, as well as to U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. He accused automakers of giving consumers the “potentially life-threatening misimpression” that EVs work after saltwater submersion.
“This emerging threat has forced local fire departments to divert resources away from hurricane recovery to control and contain these dangerous fires,” Scott wrote to Buttigieg last week. “As increasing numbers of EVs come to market nationwide, this threat demands action by the U.S. Department of Transportation to develop guidance to properly caution consumers about this risk posed by EVs submerged in saltwater.”