Deadly Fire at Lithium Battery Manufacturing Plant in South Korea

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July 11th, 2024

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

On Monday, June 24th, a massive fire and explosion rocked Hwaseong, South Korea, at a lithium battery manufacturing plant owned and operated by Aricell. There were reportedly approximately 35,000  batteries at the site at the time of the incident. This factory, which began operations only a few years ago, produces Lithium-Thionyl Chloride (Li-SOCl2) batteries primarily used for sensors and radio communication devices. These lithium metal batteries are single-use, primary cell batteries and are not rechargeable like lithium-ion batteries. The company manufactures several types of batteries in common sizes like AA, C Cell, and D cell. They also provide heavy-duty configurations and specialty sizes like 1/2 AA batteries. 

Image of CCTV footage shows the moment the fire started.

CCTV footage showed the fire started within a stack of trays of lithium batteries adjacent to an inspection/packaging workstation. Workers tried to put out the fire using handheld fire extinguishers but were not successful. The fire spread rapidly when some of the batteries started exploding. Over 160 firefighters battled the fire, which took over 5 hours to extinguish. It is unknown if automatic sprinklers were provided at this facility, but reports have emerged that the company has been fined for safety violations in the past including dysfunctional fire safety systems.

Tragically, 23 workers (mostly temporary employees) perished from the fire, and others were seriously injured. Rescuers presume the employees on the second level of the building lost consciousness due to the thick smoke.

The National Forensic Services and authorities will work together to continue to find the root cause of this terrible accident. Lithium batteries risk overheating, fire, and explosion if they are damaged or defective. These fires are extremely challenging to extinguish.

Investigators questioned the surviving full-time and temporary employees, especially those who received safety training. It was reported that a faulty battery caught fire two days before this catastrophic incident, but the local fire department was not notified.

Risk Logic engineers specialize in identifying fire and other property loss exposures. Our engineers conduct thorough property loss prevention surveys, assessing provided fire protection and alarm systems making sure they are properly designed and maintained. For a comprehensive inspection and consultation, please contact Risk Logic.

The types of batteries manufactured at the plant.