Two Vehicle Fire caused by Improper Battery Boost

Last week, Bonnyville RCMP and the Bonnyville Regional Fire Authority (BRFA) responded to a two-vehicle fire, which was caused by improperly boosting one of the car’s battery. Both vehicles were completely burned. BRFA Fire Prevention Captain, Dwayne Ethier says fires caused by boosting frozen batteries is not uncommon.

“It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like that cause a fire,” explains Ethier, who previously worked as a mechanic and is now full-time with BRFA. “As the battery heats up, when it’s charging, it can emit hydrogen gas, which can be flammable. If there’s a presence of a spark or a flame it can ignite.” Fires and even explosions can be caused from an improper boost, he says, “with the hydrogen gas, it can actually cause an explosion. Which can cause the battery split apart and cause shrapnel.” The battery’s sulfuric acid can be very damaging, Ethier recommends always wearing protective clothing, gloves and protective eyewear when boosting a vehicle. “There’s a specific procedure for boosting vehicles to avoid creating that spark.”

The proper procedure:

  1. Hook up the positive leads first. On both the dead battery and the boosting battery,
  2. Hook the negative battery onto the boosting battery,
  3. When hooking the dead battery, do NOT hook to the battery, hook to part of the frame of the vehicle that is acting as a ground.

There’s a couple reason for not putting the negative lead on the dead battery, says Ethier, “your taking that spark away from the battery and with the new electronics that are in vehicles, you’re taking a chance at damaging computers and processing boxes.” The biggest thing is to refer to the manufacturer’s directions, “most vehicles have manufacturer’s instructors with tips on how to boost the battery depending on the vehicle.”

Frozen batteries are a common problem in Canada, which raises the potential of fires. “As a battery becomes discharged it is more likely to freeze.” Once the battery freezes, owners should take proper precautions, says Ethier, “a lot of people will just hook booster cables to the battery and start it up. The problem with freezing is fluid expands, damaging the battery. In such a manner that the battery could overheat and create an excessive amount of gas.” Rather than just boosting the battery, it’s a good idea to take the battery out and let it warm up. “Do a complete inspection of the battery, look for cracks in the casing and if you’re not sure, take it to an autoshop; like Northern Truck & Industrial Supply NAPA TRACTION, where they have battery testers and can check the plate inside.

A common misconception is that plugging your vehicle in will prevent the battery from freezing. Ethier says this is untrue, “plugging a vehicle in only heats the block. Once a battery is frozen, it needs to thaw out before anything is done to it.” There are some products that can help keep your battery warm, including a battery blanket. Battery blankets can be purchased at your local hardware store; including Home Hardware. “It’s a blanket that you can plug in to keep your battery warm,” explains Ethier.