Tragic lithium battery factory fire in South Korea: What we know

The accident claimed the lives of 22 workers, many of whom were citizens of China.

South Korea Factory fire
The Aricell factory housed an estimated 35,000 battery cells on its second floor. Photo Credit: YONHAP/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

A devastating fire and explosion at a lithium battery factory in South Korea have resulted in the deaths of over 20 people. The tragedy occurred at the Aricell factory in Hwaseong, an industrial area southwest of Seoul, causing chaos and destruction.

The explosion and fire

Around 35,000 batteries were kept at a warehouse when a number of battery cells burst around 10:31 AM local time. Additional explosions made the ensuing fire worse, and it soon grew out of control. The emergency services needed six hours to contain and put out the fire.

Deaths and injuries

The accident claimed the lives of 22 workers, many of whom were citizens of China. According to officials, the victims most likely died in a matter of seconds from the highly deadly gas. Six employees received care on the spot, while two employees are receiving hospital treatment for severe burns. There were about a hundred employees inside the building at the time of the incident.

Scenes of chaos and destruction

As firefighters battled the fire, television images showed a chaotic scene with massive clouds of dark smoke and minor explosions. A portion of the roof fell, and pieces of the building were blown out into the street. The bodies were severely damaged by the fire’s tremendous heat, making identification challenging.

Background of the company and the reason for the fire

The factory’s owner, Aricell, is a South Korean firm that makes lithium batteries for communication devices and sensors. Even though the first explosion’s cause is still unknown, once the location is confirmed secure, an investigation will begin.

Witness accounts and emergency response

Citing a witness, fire officials stated that the incident started on the second level when workers were inspecting and packaging batteries when they burst. In order “to focus on searching for and rescuing people,” South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol has directed authorities to mobilise all available resources.

Migrant workers among the victims

Of the victims, 18 were Chinese, 2 were South Koreans, and 1 was Laotian; the nationality of one is yet unknown. Countless migrant labourers from China and Southeast Asia, who frequently performed physically taxing and low-paying occupations, were among the dead.

Public safety alerts and fire hazards

Authorities in Hwaseong issued alerts advising residents to stay indoors and close their windows due to the smoke. Lithium batteries, used in phones, laptops, and electric vehicles, are known to catch fire or explode due to thermal runaway, a phenomenon that occurs when they overheat or are punctured.

Ongoing search and rescue

Despite the fire being extinguished, one factory worker remains unaccounted for, and rescuers continue to search the site. The incident has highlighted the dangers associated with lithium battery manufacturing and the need for stringent safety measures in such facilities.

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