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Fire at South Korea Lithium Battery Factory Kills 22 Lives

Fire broke out at the Aricell lithium battery manufacturing plant in Hwaseong, South Korea, leading to the deaths of at least 22 people.

Fire at South Korea Lithium Battery Factory Kills 22 Lives

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The fire erupted at the Aricell factory in Hwaseong, approximately 45 km south of Seoul. The blaze started around 10:31 a.m. local time and continued for several hours before being brought under control.

At least 22 people lost their lives in the fire with the majority being foreign nationals including 18 Chinese, one Laotian and two South Korean workers.

A final body remains unidentified and authorities fear more individuals may still be missing. Eight people sustained injuries, two of them seriously out of the 100 workers present at the time of the fire.

The fire was triggered by a series of explosions involving lithium batteries stored on the second floor of the factory.

It remains unclear what specifically caused the initial explosion, but lithium batteries are known to be highly flammable and can explode if damaged or overheated.

The fire spread rapidly due to the flammable materials in the batteries, giving workers little time to escape.

Firefighters faced challenges in controlling the blaze due to the risk of further explosions. Traditional firefighting methods such as water were unsuitable due to the reactive nature of lithium fires, necessitating the use of dry sand to extinguish the flames.

It took several hours for the firefighters to bring the fire under control and gain access to the site.

The factory housed an estimated 35,000 battery cells in the inspection and packaging area, making it a high-risk environment for fires.

The factory’s worker directory was destroyed in the fire, complicating the process of identifying the victims.

President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered an all-out effort to rescue individuals and manage the aftermath deploying extensive personnel and equipment.

The fire began on the second floor of the Aricell plant, where battery cells were stored. The explosions triggered a chain reaction leading to multiple explosions.

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Lithium batteries are particularly prone to catching fire if damaged, overheated or improperly handled, which is suspected to be the case in this incident.

The fire claimed the lives of 22 individuals including 18 Chinese nationals, two South Koreans and one Laotian.

One victim’s nationality remains unverified. Eight workers were injured with two sustaining severe injuries and the remaining six suffering minor injuries.

Despite the efforts of over 160 firefighters and 60 fire engines, one worker remained unaccounted for and rescuers continued to search the debris for any survivors.

A total of 102 workers were present in the factory at the time of the fire. The victims were found on the second floor, which had two exit staircases that, unfortunately were not enough to facilitate a safe evacuation amidst the spread of the fire and toxic smoke.

The fire is believed to have been fueled by the highly flammable materials used in lithium batteries. A single battery cell reportedly ignited causing a chain reaction of explosions among the 35,000 battery cells stored in the factory.

Prime Minister Han Duck-soo and Interior and Safety Minister Lee Sang-min visited the site to oversee the response and offer condolences.

President Yoon Suk Yeol also visited by the mobilization of all available resources for rescue and recovery. The government pledged support for funeral services and other necessary aid for the families of the victims.

South Korea has faced several deadly industrial fires in recent years, In 2020, a fire at a warehouse in Icheon claimed 38 lives.

In 2018, a hospital fire in Miryang resulted in 46 deaths. In 2008 a refrigerated warehouse fire in Icheon killed 40 workers including 12 Koreans with Chinese nationality.

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