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Fire crews return to Otay Mesa to fight yet another lithium ion battery blaze

Posted at 6:13 PM, May 17, 2024

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) — Fire crews returned Friday to the Gateway Energy Storage facility in the Otay Mesa area after a lithium ion battery fire, which began on Wednesday, flared up overnight.

The fire began before 4 p.m. on Wednesday on Camino De La Fuente, drawing about 30 firefighters to the scene. While crews believed they had the fire under control on Thursday, it reignited.

Capt. Mike Cornette, a spokesman for Cal Fire, said lithium ion battery fires are so dangerous because they have a "thermal runway."

"The batteries have the ability to have a chemical reaction when they are damaged and create heat and a fire," Cornette said.

He added the cause remains under investigation. No one was injured.

"The situation at our Gateway facility has evolved in a predictable way," said Carolyne Murff, a spokeswoman for the company. "The facility remains closed and there is no threat to the community or nearby businesses. Battery fires like this one often smolder before being fully extinguished and that has been the case here over the last 36 hours."

The fire was the latest in a growing number of lithium ion battery blazes in the San Diego region.

The San Diego Fire-Rescue Department reported at least 32 such fires since mid-March, compared to 104 in the previous year, more than doubling from 2022, which saw 46 incidents.

Lithium ion batteries, commonly used in cell phones, laptops, and electric bikes, pose significant risks if not handled properly, experts said.

Professor Zheng Chen from the Department of Nano and Chemical Engineering at UC San Diego provided tips to prevent such mishap.

“You want to make sure your battery stays away from heat. So, if you are watching a video for cooking, you are getting too close," he said. "You don’t want to overcharge.”

He added that lithium ion battery fires can quickly accelerate to temperatures exceeding 500 degrees.