18 Chinese Among 22 Dead In South Korea Battery Plant Fire

A major fire at a South Korean lithium battery factory killed 22 people, including 18 Chinese nationals, according to the fire service on Monday. It was one of the country’s deadliest manufacturing disasters in years.

Firefighter Kim Jin-young told the media that around 100 people were working at the facility when they heard a series of explosions on the second floor, where lithium-ion batteries were being examined and packaged.

Twenty-two individuals were killed in the big blaze that occurred, including 20 foreign nationals — 18 Chinese, one from Laos, and one of unknown nationality, he said.

“Most of the bodies are badly burned so it will take some time to identify each one,” the official said.

Firefighters are still looking for one more person who is missing, he said, adding that they were able to contain the largest fire at the plant and get inside.

Firefighters were “doing cooling operations to prevent the fire from expanding to nearby factories,” Kim said.

An AFP correspondent witnessed dozens of fire trucks lined up outside the facility, with rescue personnel taking bodies out on stretchers wrapped in blue blankets.

Yonhap released images after the fire broke out, showing massive plumes of billowing grey smoke rising into the sky above the plant, as well as orange flames inside the building.

The huge factory housed an estimated 35,000 battery cells on the second floor, with more batteries kept elsewhere.

Lithium batteries burn extremely hot and quickly, making conventional fire suppression methods ineffective.

“Due to fears of additional explosions, it was difficult to enter,” Kim said, describing the tricky rescue operation.

“As it is a lithium battery manufacturer, we (had) determined that spraying water will not extinguish the fire, so we (used) dry sand,” he added.

The lithium battery plant is owned by Aricell, a South Korean primary battery producer. It is situated in Hwaseong city, close south of the capital Seoul.

S-connect, Aricell’s parent firm, saw its shares fall by more than 20% on the Seoul exchange by Monday’s close. S-Connect controls 96% of Aricell.

Lithium batteries are used in everything from laptops to electric vehicles, but they can be highly explosive, so airlines, for example, have severe restrictions for examining items containing them.

‘Mobilise all personnel’

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol issued emergency instructions to authorities, telling them to “mobilise all available personnel and equipment to focus on searching for and rescuing people,” his office said.

The president also warned authorities that they should “ensure the safety of firefighters considering the rapid spread of fire”.

Authorities in Hwaseong sent out a series of alerts to residents warning them to stay inside.

“There is a lot of smoke due to factory fires. Please pay attention to safety, such as refraining from going out,” one alert sent by text message said.

“Factory fire. Please detour to surrounding roads and nearby citizens please close windows,” another one read.

South Korea is a major producer of batteries, including those used in electric vehicles.

Its battery makers supply EV makers around the world, including Tesla.

The fire is one of South Korea’s worst factory disasters in years.

Previously, it’s worst chemical plant accident was in 1989 at the Lucky Chemical factory in Yeosu, Southern Jeolla Province, which resulted in 16 deaths and 17 injuries.

A fire at a warehouse in Icheon in 2020 killed 38 people.

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