Luton fire not caused by electric car, emergency services say

A major blaze in a car park at Britain's Luton Airport started in a diesel car, local firefighters and police said, despite claims circulating on social media that an electric vehicle was to blame.

Numerous online posts repeated the unfounded claim about the blaze, which shut down flights for hours after it broke out on Tuesday at the airport north of London.

"Word has it this fire was start (sic) by electric SUV," one user said in an October 11, 2023 message on Facebook.

"Given that the car that caught fire at Luton Airport was clearly a hybrid with an electric battery, how long before the same happens on a car ferry at sea or inside the Channel Tunnel?" asked a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Screenshot taken on October 12, 2023 of a Facebook post about the Luton airport fire
Screen shot taken on October 12, 2023 of a post on X, formerly Twitter



An investigation to determine the cause of the fire is underway, but local media initially quoted the county's chief fire officer Andy Hopkinson as saying the blaze appeared to have been accidental and "we don't believe it was an electric vehicle."

The Bedfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, which tackled the blaze, said in a statement online (archived here) it "can confirm the initial vehicle involved in the fire was a diesel car."

Rebecca Croft, communications manager for Bedfordshire county police, told the same to AFP in an October 12 email: "We can confirm the initial vehicle involved in the fire was a diesel car."

Airport car chargers

Firefighters had worked through the night to extinguish the blaze, which erupted on level three of the airport's Terminal Car Park 2.

Firemen battle a fire at London's Luton Airport which caused a partial collapse of a parking structure on October 11, 2023 ( AFP / HENRY NICHOLLS)

The fire service said in its statement: "It is believed that up to 1,200 vehicles may have been in the car park at the time of the fire and subsequently damaged."

The BBC quoted one firefighter as saying there were "lots of electric vehicles potentially involved quite early on" but it did not cite him as identifying the source of the blaze as an electric car.

The fire did not strike the car park where the airport offers charging points and chargers for Tesla electric vehicles. The airport's website(archived here) indicates the chargers are located on the second floor of Car Park 1, which is separated by a road from the structure where the fire started.

Google maps shows Car Park 2 where the fire struck (circled in red) with Car Park 1 to its left (green), containing the charging points and the Tesla chargers (yellow):

Screenshot of Google Maps taken October 12, 2023 with elements circled by AFP

Research on electric car fires

Scientists say electric vehicles catch fire less often than gasoline-powered ones, but when their lithium ion batteries ignite the blazes are difficult to extinguish.

Promotion of electric vehicles is part of Britain's drive for net-zero carbon emissions to limit the threat from climate change.

With a general election expected in 2024, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has watered down some of the net zero pledges. He announced last month that a ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be delayed from 2030 to 2035.

AFP has fact-checked other claims about electric vehicles here.

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