What Makes Lithium Fires More Dangerous than Standard Fires

Fires are inherently perilous, but what sets lithium fires, especially lithium-ion battery fires, apart from typical blazes? In this article, we’ll delve into the specific factors that render lithium fires more treacherous and necessitate unique approaches to combat them.

What Makes Lithium Fires More Dangerous than Standard Fires

The Chemistry of Lithium and Water

A key reason lithium fires are challenging to extinguish lies in how lithium interacts with water. When lithium meets water, it generates hydrogen gas and lithium-hydroxide, expressed in this equation: 2Li + 2H₂O → 2LiOH + H₂.

While lithium-hydroxide itself isn’t generally menacing, the resulting hydrogen gas is highly flammable. Pouring water on a lithium fire can worsen the situation, leading to a highly dangerous scenario. Moreover, if a leaking lithium-ion battery encounters air or moisture, it can produce hydrofluoric acid, a profoundly toxic substance that can cause severe eye and lung irritation.

Additionally, lithium’s low density makes it float in water, hindering effective smothering or submersion of a lithium fire. While this may not be directly applicable to extinguishing a burning electronic device, it’s vital information for emergency situations involving lithium components.

The Peril of Lithium Battery Explosions

Another substantial peril of lithium fires is the potential for lithium batteries to explode. Lithium-ion batteries are designed for lightweight, optimal charging, resulting in thin casings and minimal partitioning between cells. This lack of robustness makes batteries vulnerable to damage or penetration.

An overheating lithium cell can rapidly expand and explode, often precluding timely safety measures. This explosive nature of lithium fires significantly heightens their danger. Moreover, when lithium batteries are employed in multiples, the explosion risk multiplies. If one battery erupts, others are likely to follow. To mitigate the risk of flying metal shards during a lithium-ion battery fire, heat-resistant blankets can protect personnel.

Effective Extinguishing Approaches

Previously, the Federal Aviation Administration advocated for halon and water to quell lithium fires. However, halon usage was largely discontinued due to its ozone-depleting effects. This method also produced substantial smoke and noxious fumes, which may be unsuitable for certain environments like aircraft cabins.

A more favored approach is to use a dry fire suppressant such as Redway. Specifically tailored to promptly and securely extinguish lithium-ion battery fires, CellBlockEX effectively contains smoke and hazardous fumes, outperforming conventional fire suppression methods like vermiculite.


Lithium fires present an elevated risk compared to standard fires due to the unique traits of lithium and lithium-ion batteries. The chemistry of lithium with water and the potential for battery explosions make lithium fires more challenging to combat and more dangerous to handle. It’s imperative for companies and organizations to implement specialized protocols for a swift and safe response to lithium fires. Leveraging products from Redway can mitigate the risk of lithium fires, ensuring the safety of both personnel and property.

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