Photo: Essex County Fire & Rescue Service

Breaking out in the small hours of Sunday morning, another lithium battery fire, this one at a UK warehouse for mobility scooters, required firefighters to be on station for more than 12 hours.

Essex County fire and rescue service said yesterday that the cause of the fire, which started at a distribution centre for CareCo mobility scooters, at Turing Court, Great Notley, near Braintree, Essex, was “accidental”.

The blaze’s duration of the fire necessitated some 50 firefighters, Incident Commander Howard Midwood told the BBC, describing the “challenging” job of tackling a lithium battery fire: “Throughout the night we’ve had somewhere between 40 – 50 firefighters wearing breathing apparatus, tackling the fire inside the building, and we’ve also been using an aerial ladder platform to pour water from above.”

The Loadstar has previously reported on the complex task of tackling lithium-battery fires. Though the automotive industry is quick to point out that battery fires do not seem to originate more often than those in conventional petrol and diesel cars, they are a major contributing factor when a fire does break out.

This is thanks to thermal runaway – a chain reaction in which a fire in one cell increases the temperature of its neighbours to the extent they also set ablaze – giving the impression that the battery has spontaneously re-lit. In this context, the main utility of spraying water on the battery is not in smothering the fire, but rather in cooling the temperature of the cells over a long period of time.

This month, TT Club risk assessment manager Neil Dalus and MD Loss Prevention Mike Yarwood highlighted the dangers posed not only by the fires themselves, but by toxic gases emitted in the smoke. Since firefighters will be equipped with the necessary breathing apparatus and personal protection equipment (PPE), it is ‘have-a-go’ heroes armed with fire extinguishers – likely the first responders in a warehouse fire, TT Club points out – who are most susceptible.

“Lithium batteries are not the only cargo with these issues, and so seafarers attending fires on board or professional firefighters will still usually have sufficient breathing apparatus and PPE,” said Mr Yarwood. “But [in a warehouse], you have maybe 5-10kg fire extinguishers… very few would have breathing apparatus. It is about situations where a first responder thinks, I’ll have a go with the fire extinguisher.”

Nobody is reported harmed thus far in the Great Notley fire. “In the early hours of Sunday morning (17th September), our main distribution and operations centre was damaged by a fire,” said a statement by CareCo. “Thankfully, nobody was hurt in the incident. We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Essex County Fire and Rescue Service who responded to the situation so quickly.”

Last month, an electric car battery fire spread throughout the Panama-flagged Fremantle Highway, of which 498 of the 3,783 vehicles on board were electric, and claimed the life of an Indian seafarer.

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