How to handle the growing risk of lithium-ion battery fires at festivals this summer

Daniel Robins

With a rise in rechargeable electric devices at festivals, Daniel Robins, projects director at fire trade supplier CheckFire, discusses the growing risk of lithium-ion battery fires and offers crucial safety tips for organisers. CheckFire has recently launched its LFX fire extinguisher range, specifically designed to tackle these unique and dangerous fires.

As summer approaches and festival season kicks into high gear, the revelry brings with it an array of modern gadgets and conveniences powered by lithium-ion batteries. From smartphones and vapes to e-bikes and power banks, these batteries are essential for our tech-driven lifestyles. However, they also present a growing risk: lithium-ion battery fires.

With UK fire services responding to 46% more fires linked to these batteries in 2023 than in the previous year, it’s now recognised in the Regulatory Reform (Fire Safety) Order 2005 that lithium-ion batteries need to be considered in all fire risk assessments in the UK – including festivals.

Festival grounds must be equipped with the correct fire extinguishers and fire safety measures to handle these unique fires. But what makes them different and why are they so dangerous?

Understanding lithium-ion battery fires
Lithium-ion battery fires are particularly hazardous due to a phenomenon known as thermal runaway. This occurs when a battery cell overheats, typically due to overcharging, physical damage, or internal malfunctions.

Once the battery reaches around 60°C, it can release toxic and flammable gases, igniting and causing the fire to spread rapidly to adjacent cells. Cooling the entire battery pack, even undamaged cells, is crucial to halt the process. This stops the chain reaction in the damaged battery cells from spreading further and prevents additional cells from overheating and igniting.

The chain reaction makes these fires difficult to control, posing significant risks to both
property and life. This is what makes robust fire safety measures addressing this escalating
danger at festivals so important.

What can organisers do to ensure the safety of festival-goers?

1. Conduct comprehensive fire risk assessments

A thorough fire risk assessment is an essential starting point for all festivals. This will identify potential hazards, vulnerable areas, and at-risk individuals. Particular attention should be paid to camping areas, as tent materials are highly flammable. Prohibiting open flames in these zones and employing fire marshals to monitor the area can significantly reduce fire risks.

While you may not be able to restrict certain devices, such as rechargeable battery packs or even vapes, organisers should put the appropriate safeguards in place to deal with the unexpected event of a lithium-ion battery fire.

2. Install specialised fire extinguishers around the grounds
Understanding the correct type of fire extinguisher for lithium-ion batteries is crucial for
anyone responsible for fire safety. While standard water fire extinguishers can cool lithium-ion battery packs and help stop the thermal runaway process, they require large volumes of water to be effective. The challenge is delivering sufficient cooling power through a portable fire extinguisher with a limited supply.

Instead, festival grounds should be equipped with fire extinguishers specifically designed for these types of fires, such as the CommanderEDGE LFX fire extinguisher range. Our LFX
lithium-ion battery fire extinguisher range is endothermic. Alongside the ability to effectively put out flames, its heat-absorbing properties quickly work to break down the chain reaction in thermal runaway and prevent other cells from overheating.

The result? That thermal runaway can be halted, extinguishing failed cells and stopping other cells from exploding. The liquid is also extremely effective against Class A fires –combustible materials such as paper, wood, cloth and some plastics – and this allows the fire extinguisher to quickly tackle ‘peripheral’ fires caused by exploding batteries.

The number of fire extinguishers required will be determined by the fire risk assessment. But, with the risk of lithium-ion battery fires growing, as well as the number of devices with these batteries that could be in use at festivals, specific fire extinguishers for these fires are essential.

Ensure all equipment is easily accessible and clearly signposted so marshals and event-goers are aware of the differences between units, and can identify the appropriate fire extinguisher needed.

3. Clear exits and escape routes

It’s vital you ensure there are marked exits and signposted escape routes throughout the
festival grounds. Regular announcements can help attendees become familiar with
emergency procedures, facilitating a quick and orderly evacuation if necessary.

4. Collaborate with local fire services and fire safety experts

Working alongside local fire services and to the latest safety standards and regulations is
necessary. Festival organisers should engage with fire safety experts to continually refine their fire safety protocols and ensure compliance with legal requirements, guaranteeing that all measures are up-to-date and effective.

Ensuring device safety to prevent lithium-ion battery fires
For all attendees – workers and guests alike – it’s important to be aware of how to keep
rechargeable devices safe from the risk of thermal runaway:

● Opt for reputable brands and suppliers. When purchasing devices or batteries, high-quality products are more likely to meet safety standards and undergo rigorous testing, reducing the likelihood of malfunctions.

● Avoid overcharging. Always follow the manufacturer’s charging recommendations
and unplug devices once fully charged. Avoid charging devices overnight or leaving
them plugged in for extended periods.

● Monitor the temperature of the device. Lithium-ion batteries are sensitive to
temperature fluctuations, so avoid exposing devices to direct sunlight or leaving them
in hot cars, or tents, during summer.

● Perform routine device inspections to check for signs of wear and tear. Look for
swollen batteries, cracks, or other abnormalities, as these can all pose hazards. If you
notice any issues, consult the manufacturer or a professional technician for advice on
replacement or repair.

● Protect devices from physical damage with protective cases or covers. Even minor
damage can lead to leakage or fires, so handle devices with care to prevent drops, punctures, or crushing.

Lastly, dispose of old or damaged batteries responsibly. Many recycling centres accept
lithium-ion batteries for proper disposal. Never throw them in the bin or incinerate them, as
this can lead to environmental contamination and safety hazards.

With many bins usually available on a festival site, you could consider appropriate signage to inform festival-goers not to throw rechargeable batteries and devices into waste bins. Event litter pickers should also be made aware when cleaning up after the event that they need to be disposed of responsibly or recycled.

Festival fun with first-class fire safety
As festivals continue to grow in popularity, the presence of lithium-ion battery-powered
devices will only increase. By understanding the risks and implementing comprehensive fire
safety measures, festival organisers can mitigate the dangers associated with these batteries.

Ensuring the safety of attendees is paramount, and with the right precautions in place,
everyone can enjoy a safe and memorable festival experience.