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Reigniting San Diego BESS Fire Highlights Thermal Runaway Risks

With video: A multi-day, reigniting fire at the Otay Mesa Storage Facility illustrates the safety challenge of lithium-ion batteries.

Michael C. Anderson, Editor-in-Chief, Battery Technology

May 20, 2024

2 Min Read
Outdoor fire - stock image
Outdoor fire - stock imageCREDIT: HXDBZXY / ISTOCK GETTY IMAGES PLUS

A significant fire at the Gateway Energy Storage Facility in Otay Mesa brings fresh attention to the dangers associated with lithium-ion batteries. The blaze, which began on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, has persisted for four days with no clear end in sight, according to reports from the San Diego Union Tribune, television station KUSI/FOX5 and others.

Despite efforts by firefighters, including drenching the batteries and ventilating the facility, the fire has repeatedly reignited due to a thermal runaway chain reaction—a phenomenon where overheating lithium-ion batteries catch fire and cause neighboring batteries to do the same. The San Diego Union Tribune reported that more than three dozen firefighters have been battling the blaze, but full containment remains uncertain. Cal Fire Captain Brent Pascua indicated that containment could take anywhere from a week to several weeks based on past incidents.

KUSI/FOX5 provided additional details, noting that the fire increased in intensity overnight Friday, damaging the building and leading to evacuation orders. The fire, which began in building No. 3 of the facility, has extended into the building components and burned through part of the roof. Cal Fire reported that firefighters have been using aerial master streams and unmanned portable monitors to fight the fire, with HAZMAT teams called in due to the involvement of lithium-ion batteries. Although the fire's progression has slowed, firefighters remain on high alert for potential reignitions.

Rev Renewables, the operator of the 250-megawatt facility, acknowledged the challenges in extinguishing such fires. They noted that while the fire’s resurgence was unfortunate, it was anticipated due to the nature of lithium-ion battery fires. The facility plays a crucial role in supplying electricity to California’s power grid, underscoring the importance of managing these risks.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and the San Diego County Department of Environmental Health-Hazardous Materials Division are assisting in battling the fire. Fortunately, no injuries have been reported, but the situation remains a race against time to contain not only the fire but also smoke and toxic fumes from the lithium-ion batteries.

This incident serves as a stark reminder of the hazards linked to lithium-ion battery storage and the need for advanced safety measures to prevent and manage such fires. As energy storage becomes increasingly vital for modern power grids, ensuring the safety of these facilities is paramount to protecting both infrastructure and public health.

About the Author(s)

Michael C. Anderson

Editor-in-Chief, Battery Technology, Informa Markets - Engineering

Battery Technology Editor-in-Chief Michael C. Anderson has been covering manufacturing and transportation technology developments for more than a quarter-century, with editor roles at Manufacturing Engineering, Cutting Tool Engineering, Automotive Design & Production, and Smart Manufacturing. Before all of that, he taught English and literature at colleges in Japan and Michigan.

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