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Fire in garbage truck sparks warning about battery disposal

The fire occurred on Jan. 11 in the City of Kamloops vehicle by way of an e-bike battery pack someone had thrown away
kfr-battery fire
Ryan Nield of Kamloops Fire Rescue with the burnt remains of an electric bike battery that caught fire in the back of a City of Kamloops garbage truck on Jan. 11, 2022.

Kamloops Fire Rescue is warning the public to recycle their batteries following a fire in a garbage truck.

The fire occurred on Jan. 11 at 8:30 a.m. in the City of Kamloops vehicle by way of an e-bike battery pack someone had thrown away.

According to fire department officials, the truck driver noticed the back of the vehicle was on fire while travelling along Mission Flats Road and dumped the load of garbage he reached the landfill. The driver used a fire extinguisher to extinguish the blaze and firefighters responded to douse the contents further to ensure no flare-ups.

Lithium-ion batteries, commonly found in smartphones, laptops, earbuds, scooters, power tools and e-cigarettes, can catch fire when crushed, punctured, ripped or dropped because they short circuit when the thin separator between their positive and negative parts is breached, according to an article from the Washington Post.

Kamloops Fire Rescue investigator Kevin Cassidy said firefighters have seen a few battery-caused fires in Kamloops recently, noting the Jan. 11 blaze may have been the result of the battery being crushed by the truck’s trash compacter.

Jeff Pont, the fire department’s life safety educator, said that when damaged, the batteries can create an electrical arc if up against metal like a garbage bin.

“Once that current starts arcing, it can start fires,” Pont said. “They [batteries] could get buried in a pile of garbage, then start up later and it turns into a huge fire that’s dangerous for everyone.”

While every fire is dangerous, Pont said a garbage or landfill fire can be especially hazardous and toxic due to the unknown mix of materials that fuel them. A fire at the landfill last year led to a thick, black cloud of smoke rolling over parts of Kamloops and prompting a warning for residents to stay inside.

Pont said he has heard from at least one city staff member that  lithium batteries are often being found in the trash.

Pont said more battery-caused fires are being seen within homes, noting people need to properly charge and store their lithium batteries and ensure nothing combustible is around them.

He also said residents need to recycle their batteries properly, adding it’s good for the environment and everyone’s safety.

Batteries and pool chemicals thrown in the garbage are the leading cause of landfill fires, according to an online factsheet from the Capital Regional District in Victoria. Most batteries also contain numerous heavy metals and toxic chemicals that have the potential to harm the environment if not disposed of properly.

The City of Kamloops does not have curbside pickup for any types of batteries, which are considered hazardous waste material that must be dropped off at an appropriate location in the city.

Electric vehicle batteries, such as the one that ended up at the landfill earlier this month, must be dropped off for recycling at Canadian Energy, east of downtown at 1440 Battle St., which comes with a fee, according to the City of Kamloops website.

As for rechargeable batteries and dry-cell single-use batteries weighing up to five kilograms, those can be sent to any Call2Recycle drop-off site in Kamloops, according to the municipal website. Car and boat batteries are to be sent to locations participating in the Canadian Battery Association’s recycling program.

For a list of these locations and where to send other waste products in Kamloops, check out the city website.