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Battery Failure Leads to Fire at Beta Technologies

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Published August 29, 2022 at 9:03 p.m.


The damaged container - COURTESY OF THE SOUTH BURLINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Courtesy of the South Burlington Fire Department
  • The damaged container
The story and headline were updated on August 30, 2022.

A shipping container filled with lithium-ion batteries for Beta Technologies' experimental aircraft caught fire early on Friday, pushing flames nearly 40 feet high.

Crews with the Vermont Air National Guard and South Burlington Fire Department were dispatched shortly after midnight to the tech company's headquarters at the Burlington International Airport, where they found one of several containers fully engulfed, the flames reaching 20-to 40-feet into the air, according to information provided by the fire departments.

The fire was controlled within 30 minutes and extinguished shortly after 1 a.m. Crews used “copious amounts of water” to stop thermal runaway, a dangerous chain reaction in which lithium-ion batteries generate uncontrollable heat, according to an incident report the South Burlington Fire Department provided to Seven Days.



Inside the damaged container - COURTESY SOUTH BURLINGTON FIRE DEPARTMENT
  • Courtesy South Burlington Fire Department
  • Inside the damaged container
South Burlington Fire Chief Steven Locke said a battery failure caused the fire.

In a statement, Beta spokesperson Jake Goldman said no one was hurt and there was no damage to the surrounding facilities or Beta's prototype aircraft. The batteries are assembled, stored and tested in a series of shipping containers that can help contain fires.

"The response plans and safety precautions we had in place worked effectively," Goldman said in an email.

Crews cleared the scene before dawn, and Beta employees went to work as usual. Burlington International Airport acting director of aviation Nic Longo said the fire did not disrupt airport operations. Longo said he was "unaware of any impacts beyond just the fire itself."

Over the weekend, a neighbor posted about the fire. But it wasn't until news outlets inquired on Monday that either fire department provided information about the blaze.

It's at least the second fire at Beta involving lithium-ion batteries. The first, in 2019, broke out when a battery had a catastrophic failure, according to a WCAX-TV report from the time.
Shipping containers at Beta headquarters - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • Shipping containers at Beta headquarters
The fast-growing startup is developing a battery-powered aircraft, dubbed Alia, that can transport passengers or cargo between airports and helicopter-like landing pads. The company purchases lithium-ion cells and assembles them into large battery packs for use in Alia.

Lithium-ion batteries are also used in electric vehicles and electronics. In rare cases, they can catch fire or explode and emit toxic gasses such as hydrogen fluoride. Beta's Goldman said the concentrations of hydrogen fluoride that may have been emitted during Friday's incident would not have posed a danger to surrounding homes and businesses. Locke said his department did not identify any concerning hazardous emissions.

By Monday evening, the damaged shipping container had been removed from a row of similar containers that are visible from Airport Drive.