Exploding Batteries Ignite Fatal Fire in South Korean Factory

A fire erupted on Monday morning at the Aricell plant in Hwaseong city, located approximately 45km (28 miles) south of Seoul.

Television broadcasts showed significant smoke and sporadic explosions as firefighters battled the blaze. Part of the building’s roof had collapsed.

South Korea is a major manufacturer of lithium batteries, which are used in a wide range of products, from electric cars to laptops.

Fire official Kim Jin-young reported that 18 Chinese, one Laotian, and two South Korean workers were confirmed dead. One body remained unidentified, and it was feared that at least one other person might be missing. “Most of the bodies are badly burned, so it will take some time to identify each one.”

Three more individuals were injured, two seriously, out of the 100 workers present when the fire started.

The Aricell facility had around 35,000 battery cells on its second floor, where the batteries were inspected and packaged, with additional storage in other areas. Mr. Kim stated that the fire began with a series of battery cell explosions, though the exact cause of the initial explosion remains unknown. He noted that entering the site was initially challenging “due to fears of additional explosions.”

The precise cause of the blaze is still under investigation. Lithium batteries pose a risk of explosion if damaged or overheated.

Regardless of the cause, the fire spread rapidly, providing workers with little time to escape, said Kim Jae-ho, a fire and disaster prevention expert at Daejeon University. Materials like nickel in batteries are highly flammable, this often results in insufficient response time compared to fires caused by other substances.

Due to the intense reaction of lithium fires with water, firefighters used dry sand to extinguish the blaze, which took several hours to control.

However, there remains a risk that the fire could reignite without warning due to ongoing chemical reactions.

Image credit: AP Photo