I-TEAM: Lithium-ion battery fires are happening; here’s how to protect your property

The I-TEAM investigates the risk and what you can do to protect your property.
Published: Apr. 13, 2023 at 6:50 PM EDT
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NORTH AUGUSTA, S.C. (WRDW/WAGT) - Faster charging batteries are causing golf cart sales to soar.

Lithium-powered batteries last longer, but they can also become fire hazards. The I-TEAM investigates the risk and what you can do to protect your property.

Take a ride through North Augusta, and you’ll find a place where families, friends, and neighbors connect with their community.

“When you’re in a golf cart, you’re able to interact with your neighbors as you ride by them and speak to them. More so than a car,” said Lt. Junior Johnson, North Augusta Public Safety.

New, old, electric, or lead acid, you see all types parked at SRP Park.

According to the South Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles, the demand for golf carts has increased 25 percent over the last few years, but so has concern.

Johnson says North Augusta Public Safety found a golf cart engulfed in flames the day after the tournament.

“We do not know what caused this one. The entire golf cart was destroyed,” he said.

The National Fire Protection Agency began warning firefighters of the risks of lithium-ion batteries years ago, but this is a first here.

It’s a first for North Augusta Public Safety but not the first in South Carolina.

A Seabrook Island family lost more than their golf cart when the battery caught fire.

“If this were to occur inside a garage, it could catch the rest of the house on fire. If it’s next near the house, it could also spread to the house,” said Johnson. “That battery continues to, even after the fire’s out, the battery’s chemical reaction will still continue to go on.”

Fires involving lithium-ion batteries are intense, fast burning, and difficult to put out.

“This holds 750 gallons of water. We used all of that, and we had to refill it,” he said.

But the reward outweighs the risk, especially if you have insurance.

The good thing about a lithium battery is 20-30 minutes, and it’s fully charged. A standard golf cart it can take up to ten hours.

But it’s the charger that can get you in trouble. -OSHA says a frayed, defective, or damaged charger can spark a fire, even when the battery itself is generally safe.