Posted November 20, 2023

Electric Vehicle Fleet Fire Risks In The Spotlight

Residents have been voicing opposition to the construction of an underground electric bus garage beneath the planned building of numerous new residential apartments. Their concerns revolve around the potential for battery fires to create a destructive “volcano” and threaten the neighbourhood. Barnet Council is currently in talks with Transport for London (TfL) and developer Ballymore regarding a project estimated at £1.7 billion, which involves erecting 25 tower blocks on top of a proposed underground electric bus depot in Edgware town centre.

The community group “Save Our Edgware” has expressed apprehension, asserting that residents would face severe risk in the event of battery fires in electric vehicles, which could lead to explosive combustion and fires involving multiple vehicles. Their concerns are substantiated by a previous incident in Potters Bar, Hertfordshire, where an entire fleet of electric buses was destroyed when one of them caught fire.

In a similar incident that occurred in Paris, a transportation company took 149 Bluebus electric buses out of service after two of them caught fire on separate occasions. The heightened risk of “thermal runaway” in damaged electric vehicle batteries arises from the rapid release of stored energy, leading to temperatures as high as 400°C. While electric vehicle fires are statistically less common than those in petrol or diesel vehicles, they pose greater challenges for firefighters in terms of extinguishing them.

Firefighters are still experimenting with the most effective methods to combat fires involving the lithium-ion batteries found in many electric vehicles. These methods include submerging the vehicles in water, applying foam, or using substantial fire blankets. Government regulations require electric cars with faulty batteries to be “quarantined” to prevent battery fires from spreading to nearby vehicles.

The proposed development on the six-hectare site, currently occupied by the Edgware shopping centre, will encompass housing for around 7,000 people and a renovated shopping centre. The plan, in collaboration with TfL, also involves replacing an above-ground bus garage with a new depot capable of accommodating at least 190 electric buses beneath the 3,828 high-rise residences. These buses will be charged through the same electrical infrastructure as the buildings above and will recharge overnight.

The London Fire Brigade was contacted under the Freedom of Information Act, revealing that there is currently no specific fire safety guidance for underground garages used to recharge electric buses.

Anuta Zack, spokesperson for Save Our Edgware, expressed concerns about the potential for a battery fire in the bus garage, likening it to a “Grenfell on steroids.” She emphasised that residents were facing “severe risk,” particularly considering the proposed site’s proximity to Premier House, a 13-storey block covered with the same cladding that contributed to the Grenfell Tower fire in 2017, claiming 72 lives. Ms. Zack characterised the proposed garage as a “volcano” situated beneath a large residential population, adding that she is fearful because fire safety protocols have not been adequately developed, putting people’s lives at risk.

A petition with over 5,500 signatures opposing the Ballymore development will be presented to Barnet Council during the upcoming meeting on October 17, after an initial rejection. Ballymore has been collaborating with TTL Properties, Transport for London’s real estate division, since March to engage with local community groups regarding the project. The developer is expected to submit a formal application for the project in the coming weeks.

A spokesperson for the joint venture stressed their commitment to the safety of residents and all users of their developments. They are working closely with relevant authorities to ensure that the proposal adheres to the highest fire safety standards. They further emphasised that the garage would only be occupied by electric buses following approvals from various regulatory bodies, including the London Fire Brigade, Barnet Council, the Health and Safety Executive, and Building Control. Barnet Council may provide additional comment on the matter.

If in doubt about electric vehicle fleet management and any potential fire risks you can contact SS Systems to speak to one of our expert team members who will guide you through a commercial solution for your location and specific requirements.

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