Firefighters and police outside the burnt-out battery factory in Hwaesong, South Korea. (Credit Lee Jin-man_AP)Firefighters and police outside the burnt-out battery factory in Hwaesong, South Korea. (Credit Lee Jin-man_AP)


Death toll from lithium battery factory blaze rises as probe into cause continues

  • Deadly fire at lithium battery factory in South Korea
  • Several batteries exploded in warehouse
  • Experts are trying to find the cause
  • Death toll has risen to 23
  • Two people are seriously hurt
  • Company CEO makes public apology

Time 10:48 am, June 25, 2024

The death toll from yesterday’s lithium battery factory fire has risen to 23.

Forensic and other experts were today combing through the charred ruins of the Aricell plant in the South Korean city of Hwaseong to try to find the cause of the devastating blaze.

Several batteries exploded yesterday, with 22 people initially reported dead, but that figure has now risen to 23. Most of them were said to be Chinese migrant workers.

It’s still not known what caused the batteries to explode inside a warehouse that contained some 35,000 battery cells.

More than 100 people were working at the factory, some 28 miles south of Seoul, when the fire ripped through it yesterday morning.

Security cameras showed smoke engulfing the second floor of the factory soon after sparks were detected from a site where lithium batteries were stored, fire officials said.

One victim was pronounced dead at a hospital and fire workers retrieved 21 bodies from the factory on Monday, with another body recovered today.

Eighteen victims were Chinese, two were South Korean and one was Laotian. The nationalities of the other two dead were being verified.

Members of the National Forensic Service at the scene of the battery factory fire in Hwaseong, South Korea (Lee Jin-man_AP)

Members of the National Forensic Service at the scene of the lithium battery factory fire in Hwaseong

Chinese ambassador Xing Haiming visited the factory site on Monday night and reportedly expressed condolences to the victims.

Police were extracting DNA samples from the bodies and their potential relatives to confirm their identities, according to fire officials.

One factory worker remained out of contact, but officials said the body discovered today was likely to be that person.

Eight others were injured, with two of them in a serious condition.

In a cabinet council meeting yesterday, prime minister Han Duck-soo instructed officials to provide support to bereaved families over funerals and compensation issues.

He also asked for safety inspections on industrial sites.

During a visit to the site on Monday, President Yoon Suk Yeol ordered officials to put in place measures to effectively deal with battery-related fires.

Today, more than 50 fire officers using two rescue dogs and equipment were mobilised to continue searching the factory, local fire official Kim Jin-young told a briefing.

A separate team of 40 forensic, fire, police and other officials were examining the site as well to find out what exactly caused the blaze.

The government will hold a separate investigation to see if any safety issues were involved.

In a televised conference near the site today, Aricell CEO Park Soon-kwan offered a public apology.

After deeply bowing with other company officials, he said he would offer all available assistance to bereaved families and faithfully undergo government investigations over the blaze.

Most of the dead workers were daily labourers so were unlikely to be familiar with the building’s internal structure, senior fire officer Jo Seon-ho told reporters yesterday.

He said video of the fire site showed that after failing to put out the blaze with fire extinguishers they rushed to an area where there was no exit. He added that the victims were likely to have inhaled toxic smoke.

Rechargeable lithium-ion batteries are used in EVs as well as in consumer goods ranging from laptops to mobile phones.

They can overheat if damaged, defective or packaged improperly, causing fires and explosions.

Images credit: Lee Jin-man/AP

John Bowman's avatar

John has been with Car Dealer since 2013 after spending 25 years in the newspaper industry as a reporter then a sub-editor/assistant chief sub-editor on regional and national titles. John is chief sub-editor in the editorial department, working on Car Dealer, as well as handling social media.

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