BMW i3 Melts Away In House / Garage Fire Started By Fireworks

2 years ago by Tom Moloughney 45

Believe it or not, this was an i3. Unlike the 328i that was also destroyed in the fire, it's difficult to tell that this pile of burnt material was once a car.

Believe it or not, this was an i3. Unlike the 328i that was also destroyed in the fire, it’s difficult to tell that this pile of burnt material was once a car.

One of two things usually happens when people see an image of an electric vehicle on fire or the remnants of an electric vehicle that had been on fire.

If you’re an EV supporter, you probably hold your breath and grimace a bit until you can read the article to learn what caused the fire and if anyone was hurt. But for many people who are unfamiliar with electric vehicles, they likely question the safety of EVs. They don’t even have to read the article; they just see “EV and fire” together and the unfortunate and uninformed speculation begins.

Luckily, since the recent electric vehicle movement began roughly 6 years ago, there have been very few cases of EV fires, and to my knowledge no one involved has suffered an injury. Other than a couple of incidents involving the defunct Fisker Karma, the causes of EV fires have been mostly a direct result of a severe impact compromising the battery pack.

I don’t know of any instance where an EV has caught on fire because of a systems failure with the high voltage battery pack or power electronics. In fact, as a comparison a gasoline powered vehicle has a greater chance of having a fire than an EV, statistically speaking.

*Editor’s Note: This post appears on Tom’s blog. Check it out here.

You can recognize the seat frames, strands of carbon fiber and the optional rear 20" Sport wheel, but not much more

You can recognize the seat frames, strands of carbon fiber and the optional rear 20″ Sport wheel, but not much more

So while I usually don’t like to use the words “EV and Fire” in the same story, I found this one particularly interesting and wanted to share it.

For one, I’ve never seen an i3 after a devastating fire incident, (these are the only pictures of an i3 after a fire that I know of) and two, because of the unique state of the car following the fire. I’d like to first say that thankfully, nobody was hurt in the fire depicted here. Also, neither the car, nor the home charging equipment, had anything to do with the fire.

It was an unfortunate accident resulting from a fireworks event for a New Year’s Eve celebration last year. Hours after cleaning up the debris from a neighborhood event, a trash can that had ashes from the fireworks ignited. Neighbors had gotten together for the fireworks display and the clean up. There must have been something placed in the trash that wasn’t completely extinguished, and after a few hours of smoldering, it unfortunately caught on fire.

A very unfortunate scene

A very unfortunate scene

It’s pretty shocking to see how little is left of the i3 after the fire. The plastic body panels and CFRP Life Cell just melted away. Without the steel frame and passenger compartment used in a conventionally built car, there is practically nothing recognizable in the pile of i3 debris after the fire.

However once they started cleaning up, they were able to drag the aluminum frame with the battery tray out of the garage with a tow truck. Although you can’t tell from the photos, the owner, Tory Johnson told me that the aluminum frame and battery tray were still intact. Tory also said it was interesting to see that while the resin which holds the carbon fiber together had melted away, the actual strands of carbon fiber didn’t melt, and were clearly visible after the fire.

The 328i next to the i3 in the garage was also destroyed by the fire, however you can still tell it was once an 328i

The 328i next to the i3 in the garage was also destroyed by the fire, however you can still tell it was once an 328i

Even after removing the debris and cleaning up the garage floor had clumps of dried CRFP resin where the i3 had basically melted away.

Even after removing the debris and cleaning up the garage floor had clumps of dried CRFP resin where the i3 had basically melted away.

It’s been over two years since the first i3 was delivered in Germany, and at this time there are about 40,000 i3s in customer hands. It’s actually a little surprising that there hasn’t been a news story or a picture shared on social media of an i3 that had been involved in a fire after a severe accident, or even one like this, that was just in the wrong place at the wrong time.

At least we now know what to expect.

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45 responses to "BMW i3 Melts Away In House / Garage Fire Started By Fireworks"

  1. kdawg says:

    So totaled then?

    1. Nick says:

      Haha! That will buff out.

      1. mo says:

        You made me spit up my coffee. Lawsuit pending.

    2. Mike616 says:

      And no towage fee?
      Just shovel and forget.

    3. Speculawyer says:

      My dad’s got bitchin’ set of tools.

    4. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      kdawg asked:

      “So totaled then?”

      Nah, any moderately handy guy could fix that with a tube of model airplane glue.

      1. Larry says:

        Duct tape’ll do it.

  2. ydnas7 says:

    Raw carbon fibre is that an asbestos like carcinogen?

    1. Nix says:

      EPA says they have not classified carbon fibers as a human carcinogen, after many rats and bunnies sacrificed their lives. But that many more rats and bunnies still need to die to be 100% certain. Probably best to use a mask if you are exposed to breathing in heavy carbon fiber dust for 100+ hours. It apparently takes quite a while to clear the lungs. See page 177:

      http://nepis.epa.gov/Adobe/PDF/91013R9A.PDF

      1. Stephen Hodges says:

        carbon doesn’t burn easily.. I keep a welding blanket of lovely soft carbon in my bedroom in case of fire. It’s designed to catch the sparks and slag.

  3. Tech01x says:

    I do wonder how long will the firewall hold up in a carbon fiber tub versus a steel or aluminum one. If one is in a situation where one cannot exit the vehicle, there is a fire, how many minutes can one hold out before help arrives? Any difference in smoke inhalation?

    1. Eric Loveday says:

      I’d guess that the melting resins would be extremely toxic.

      1. Josh says:

        The resin does not melt, it burns, very fast and hot. Survival would be very unlikely in a burning CFRP vehicle. Not much different than being trapped inside a burning ICE.

        Luckily there is very little chance of it catching fire, but don’t drive your i3 through a burning building.

    2. Nick says:

      Do EVs have a firewall?

      Lacking super dangerous and volatile liquid fuels, a firewall seems unnecessary.

    3. jelloslug says:

      I’m not sure about the actual firewall question but one thing to consider is that in a traditional car there are many highly flammable things on the engine bay side of the firewall. In the i3, however, there really is not that much up there that can ignite without an external heat source.

    4. Doug B says:

      With such heat to melt the resin, a firewall wouldn’t help.

    5. jerryd says:

      In a fire neither CF or metal no one trapped inside is going to live.
      Nor does CFRP normally melt.
      What melted likely is some of the extruded plastic pieces, carpet, dash, etc that the metal car has too.
      And this is exactly what it should look like with just fibers, metal left. Same a the metal car next to it.

  4. PureElectricPower says:

    Too much plastic. That’s why is so lightweight. Ugly canned.

    1. jelloslug says:

      How is “too much plastic” a bad thing?

  5. Elroy says:

    Joins the ranks of exotic car fires. Look at the Carrera GT Paul Walker was in. Who said the i3 isn’t an exotic car? At least the i3 is exotic in how it disintegrated too.

  6. Josh says:

    The resin from the CFRP did not “melt away”. Those resins are highly combustable and burn very hot. It was the fuel for this fire.

    The spark was obviously started by the fireworks material, so no fault of the car. But every composite vehicle that ends up in a fire will go up in smoke like this.

    We also see this in our industry with composites.

    1. Josh says:

      Here is another good example of composites how they like to burn:

  7. kdawg says:

    The metal toasted car will be recycled. Not sure about the i3. I found this info interesting regarding recycling CFRP.

    “An inconvenient truth

    Largely absent from these discussions until recently has been the cost of, and the means for, compliance with the European Union (EU) end-of-life-vehicle (ELV) directive. It requires that 85 percent, by weight, of the materials used in each car and light truck built for the 2015 model year and beyond must be reusable or recyclable. Metals and neat plastics — amorphous materials — have proven recycling track records. But CFRP does not. Yes, the ELV does permit some disposal — up to 10 percent of the vehicle’s weight can be incinerated and the remaining 5 percent can find its way into a landfill. But the math doesn’t work: If carbon fiber is to become a significant tool in the automaker’s lightweighting toolbox, recycling of CFRP from ELVs is an imperative. The good news is that this problem, once considered almost intractable, is proceeding apace toward solution, thanks to a determined and growing effort to develop CFRP recycling technologies.”

    http://www.compositesworld.com/articles/recycled-carbon-fiber-update-closing-the-cfrp-lifecycle-loop

    1. Josh says:

      Fantastic article! Thanks for sharing.

      I can comment in the wind turbine blade carbon fiber waste. One recycler claimed they got a ton of waste carbon, while another said almost none. Some turbine OEMs use carbon fiber for blade spars (load carrying structure), others use none at all. There is virtually no chance of this use going to non-directional carbon fiber.

      The blade skins are much larger by surface area, but are always fiberglass (due to cost). There is a chance these could go to non-directional fiber if the cost was competitive.

      1. Mike I says:

        It seems to me that you have found a good use for recycled automotive CFRP. Just shred the body structure and re-inject it in the shape of a wind turbine skin. However, they may not have injection machines that big since fiberglass is usually laid up and cured without injection pressure.

        1. Josh says:

          Yep, been scheming all day on how I could prototype this. There are many considerations outside my expertise though. Will have to ping a few buddies on this question.

  8. stimpacker says:

    Yea, the media jumps on every Tesla fire but skips this. Dunno if I want a car that burns like this when it catches on fire.

    1. R.S says:

      It doesn’t burn, but melt. Just look at the 3series, there is no value left in the bodywork, maybe some scrap metal, but thats almost negligible, compared to former value of the car. Some of the valuable parts, like the engine and gearbox might sill be partly intact, but so is the electric motor and the battery. You really don’t have more damage by burning down a carbon fibre, instead of a stell or aluminum, car. And if you were trapped in one of those two, you would be dead, ether way.

      1. Stimpacker says:

        Well, when the Teslas caught fire, we all saw how the passenger compartment was not compromised.

        With this exotic material i3, if there is a battery fire, it seems much less safe. Heck, any fire is dangerous for this car.

      2. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        R.S said:

        “It doesn’t burn, but melt.”

        That’s what the article claims, but a bit of critical thinking here shows that’s wrong. If the resin just melted, rather than mostly burning up, then there would be a lot more left than just some “clumps of dried CRFP resin”.

    2. At the point the cars starts melting, you would be dead in any type of car.

  9. Aaron says:

    The Fisker Karma’s fire issues had to do with its range-extending gasoline engine, and poor placement of its exhaust.

    1. sven says:

      No, the Fisker Karma’s fire issue was an electrical problem:

      “The investigation located the ignition source to the left front of the Karma, forward of the wheel, where the low temperature cooling fan is located. The final conclusion was that this sealed component had an internal fault that caused it to fail, overheat and start a slow burning fire.”

      I think the issue was fixed by placing a fuse in the electric wire leading to the fan.

      The other Fisker Karma fires were caused by the 12-volt auxiliary batteries being submerged under salt water during Hurricane Sandy, and then shorting out. A large number of Karma cars where sitting near a dock in Port Newark awaiting shipment overseas when Hurricane Sandy and its storm surge submerged the cars.

      http://insideevs.com/2400-fisker-karmas-recalled-cooling-fan-defective/

    2. ModernMarvelFan says:

      I thought it was started by a fan switch shorting out..

    3. Josh says:

      Everyone is right here. One at a SW Houston home was determined to be exhaust heat buildup from the ICE (Aaron). Many did burn while in storage due to water invasion (sven). And one burnt in a California parking lot, due to a fan short (MMF).

      Unfortunately it seems that Fisker didn’t get all the details properly worked out on this. Not the first car to have problems like this, but it was unfortunately on a highly publicized plug-in, early to market.

  10. bro1999 says:

    Wow, gives “burnt to a crisp” new meaning.

    I guess it’s an automatic total if there is no remains of the car for the adjuster to go over? =P

  11. Anon says:

    Seems like a great vehicle to incinerate murder victims in. Burns hot and does not appear to leave much recognizable behind.

    Might make for an intetesting CSI episode…

  12. Skryll says:

    In the end it doesn’t matter, neither of his cars survived the fire

  13. EVDUDE says:

    WOW – first time i’ve seen a burnt CFRP CAR. If you are a bank robber, just use an I3. Rather than burning out the car afterwards to destroy evidence, just burn it and put the ashes into the trash…

  14. Thanh Lim says:

    It does bring up a good point though. Knowing some things like tire irons on the road could set up a total loss o the car, how does the insurance company adjust its premium? I wonder how much of my premium has the burn factor baked into it.

    1. I doubt that is even a consideration. When a car has a fire, even a relatively small one where the whole car isn’t engulfed in flames like these were, the vehicle is usually totaled. Besides the fire damage, the smoke damage and water damage from putting it out will just about always make it a total loss.

    2. Josh says:

      In addition to Tom’s points, insurance companies base their rates entirely on data. So rates more often represent how past vehicles have performed, even if it was different tech. With so few i3s on the road they would base risk on comparison vehicles. Likely leafs, Volts, and bmw 3 series.

      Seeing how this was an very rare event, and the 3 series next to it was also a total loss, I doubt there is any adjustment to the premium (now or down the road).

    3. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      Thanh Lim said:

      “Knowing some things like tire irons on the road could set up a total loss o the car…”

      How so?

      This car caught fire because it was inside a garage which burned down. In other words, sustained exposure to an intense, hot fire. I very seriously doubt that a few sparks, such as you’d get from running over a tire iron on concrete, could set fire to the carbon fiber composite in this car. If it could, if the resin was really that easy to ignite, then the car shouldn’t have been approved for sale by safety inspectors.

      1. Kacey Green says:

        I think this was referring to the Tesla road debris fires, three ball tow hitch and truck fender fires after battery pack was compromised, later fixed with a titanium shield and a deflector