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Rise in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries

Rise in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries

Montreal has seen a significant increase in the number of fires caused by lithium-ion batteries over the past year. A phenomenon that can be attributed to the great popularity of electric bicycles and scooters, which are becoming increasingly visible on the streets of the capital.

in 2022 activity reportThe Montreal Fire Department reports that 24 fires were caused by lithium-ion batteries, without giving further details. However, the document notes that “misuse of rechargeable lithium-ion batteries increasingly found in mobile phones, tablets, laptops, electric scooters, etc., can catch fire.”

This is a significant increase compared to 2021 when only 7 fires were observed attributable to lithium-ion batteries. Between 2018 and 2020, 17 such fires were recorded on the territory of the city of Montreal, an average of 5.6 per year.

A similar phenomenon is observed in many other major cities in North America. This past March, New York City announced a plan to deal with a significant increase in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries used in “precision motion devices.” In 2020, New York authorities listed 44 such fires; There will be 220 in 2022.

Between 2021 and 2022, the US capital also recorded 10 deaths and 226 injuries in fires caused by lithium-ion batteries.

Lithium-ion battery explosion in New York

Les feux provoqués par des trottinettes ou des scooters électriques sont en effet spectaculaires et difficiles à combattre. « C’est un feu qui est très difficile à éteindre. Il faut une substance qui va refroidir la batterie, ça ne prend pas juste de l’eau », explique Jacques Bourdeau, ingénieur en sécurité, en entrevue avec La Presse.

Car malgré ses nombreux avantages, la batterie lithium-ion possède un inconvénient de taille : elle a tendance à chauffer, rappelle M. Bourdeau. « Plus la batterie est grosse, plus il y a de risques. »

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Si ce type de batterie demeure néanmoins très populaire, c’est qu’elle possède aussi de nombreux atouts. « Elle est très légère, c’est une batterie qui ne pèse rien comparée à la batterie traditionnelle acide-plomb. Elle va aussi garder sa charge très longtemps, même quand elle est inutilisée », note Jacques Bourdeau.

Son domaine idéal [de la batterie lithium-ion]These are small electronic devices. The more we pay [pour de plus gros appareils] The greater the risk.

Jack Purdue, safety engineer

In the case of electric cars, Mr. Bordeaux points out, risks can be better managed, because the battery elements are not necessarily concentrated in the same place, unlike for example a scooter, where everything is stored in the same place. restricted.

According to Jacques Bordeaux, the risk is greater if a lithium-ion battery is left to discharge below a certain limit. “We must not go too low,” he says, not wanting to say where that threshold is. But he believes the responsibility should lie with manufacturers, adding that there should be a warning when, for example, a scooter’s battery crosses a critical threshold.

Although it is still forbidden in principle to drive an electric scooter in Quebec, in recent years this type of vehicle has become more popular.

Stable fire report

In 2022, the Montreal Fire Department (SIM) recorded 1,303 building fires, including 304 major fires. The balance sheet is slightly higher than the 2021 budget (1,245 fires, including 278 major), but lower than the 2020 budget (1,385 fires, including 317 major). 12 people lost their lives in a fire in Montreal in 2022, one fewer than in 2021.

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It should be noted that more than 20% of the fires caused by kitchen equipment occurred in the Côte de Neige, Notre-Dame-de-Grace, Villeray and Saint-Michel-Parc-Extension neighborhoods.

The SIM has also responded to over 118 emergency calls, including medical emergencies, alarm systems, and of course, building fires. In the vast majority of cases (85%), fires are caused by human error or misuse of equipment. The report notes that nearly 40% of fires start in the kitchen, and that “one in four fires is caused by smoking materials or objects with open flames.”