In the aftermath of Hurricane Idalia, Florida residents faced an unexpected menace. Two electric vehicles, specifically Teslas, caught fire after exposure to the storm’s saltwater flood. While this may surprise many, it highlights a critical concern — electric vehicles (EVs) might not be as environmentally resilient as touted, particularly in extreme weather conditions.
Officials from the Palm Harbor Fire Department issued an urgent warning: “If you own a hybrid or electric vehicle that has come into contact with saltwater due to recent flooding within the last 24 hours, it is crucial to relocate the vehicle from your garage without delay.” This isn’t just a caution for Tesla owners but also for any devices using lithium-ion batteries, like golf carts, scooters and e-bikes.
Electric car in Florida catches fire after being flooded during Hurricane Idalia, firefighters say https://t.co/qnSo9pOZO6 via @YahooNews Electric vehicles and salt water do not mix. Cant wait for solar and windmills to save us from a week long storm.
— Frank B. JR 🇺🇸 (@nu2fl123) September 1, 2023
The main issue lies in the lithium-ion batteries that power these vehicles. According to a CBS News Innovation Lab report, these batteries contain cell groups with a flammable liquid electrolyte. When saltwater comes into contact with these batteries, it can trigger a chemical reaction leading to combustion. Palm Harbor Fire Rescue training chief Jason Haynes stressed that combustion can happen well after the initial exposure, making it crucial to move the vehicles away from structures and garages for safety.
So why is this information not widely discussed? It may be because it takes a natural disaster to unveil some inconvenient truths about electric vehicles. Andrew Klock, head of electric vehicle training for firefighters for the National Fire Protection Association, stated that electric vehicles are not inherently more dangerous than gas-powered ones if everyone knows how to handle them in flooding incidents.
However, the public needs to be more informed about these risks. Patrick Olsen, spokesperson for Carfax, mentioned hearing from EV owners who think their cars are flood-proof because they don’t have an engine that can be flooded. This misperception is concerning.
This incident is a wake-up call, especially for states like Florida that have embraced electric vehicles. As of July, Florida was home to nearly 168,000 electric cars, making it the state with the second-highest number of registered electric vehicles in the U.S.
According to Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, firefighters have undergone special training for this reason. “If you’re evacuating and leaving an EV, you’re creating a real fire threat for your home, your communities, and first responders,” Patronis warned.
Tesla itself advises against driving a car that has been flooded and emphasizes the need to move the vehicle at least 50 feet away from any structure. While the company’s guidance is an important step, it should go further in educating its consumers about the risks, particularly in hurricane-prone areas.
Hurricane Idalia’s aftermath has added another layer to the ongoing discussion about electric vehicle safety. If the electric vehicle industry wants to continue its growth, transparency about risks like these must be part of the conversation.