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On 9 September 2019, a fire broke out in the Rousegäertchen underground car park in Luxembourg City, damaging five vehicles.
In the weeks that followed the fire, rumours spread regarding its origin, with claims that an electric car was to blame. But was this really the case?
The rumour still persists over three years later. In mid-January 2023, a reader submitted a letter to one of Luxembourg's daily newspapers, claiming it was well-known that the car responsible for the Rousegäertchen fire was an electric vehicle, even if it had never been officially disclosed. "This is the reason why the car park was evacuated and why it has stayed shut since," the reader added.
Does the rumour have any factual basis? No, says Cédric Gantzer of the Grand Ducal Fire and Rescue Corps (CGDIS) head office. "The fact is that no electric car was involved in the fire."
A Maserati was to blame
The electric vehicle rumour came into play several days after the fire at the "Parking Martyrs" - the official name for the Rousegäertchen car park - after a press conference held by the Luxembourg City municipality. Officials denied the rumour and added that none of the four vehicles that were completely burned out were electric.
RTL asked the City of Luxembourg to provide further details on the vehicle which caused the fire. According to the municipality, the car in question was a diesel Maserati, not an electric vehicle.
In 2019, the Maserati brand did not have any electric vehicles on the market. The luxury Italian brand is due to release its first electric car, the GranTurismo Folgore, in dealerships later this year.
The municipal authorities added that they could not issue further details on the origins of the fire at the present time, as legal procedures are still ongoing.
Rousegäertchen car park renovations to conclude late 2024
Renovation work on the Rousegäertchen car park began on 23 January this year, after the previous building services were decommissioned.
It is now unlikely that the project will meet its original deadline of early 2024, as the preliminary work to fix the fire damage was delayed due to delivery issues with the concrete support beams.
One of the reasons why the 2019 fire caused so much damage to one of Luxembourg's oldest car parks was the lack of sprinkler system on the first underground level. The renovation works will change this, according to the Luxembourg City municipal authorities: "A new fire alarm system will be installed along with a new sprinkler system and fire extinguishers. The new system will meet all the latest standards in the future."
A new access ramp to the car park is being built on the corner of Avenue de la Liberté and Rue du Plébiscite, in order to improve accessibility for cyclists or wheelchair users. Once renovation work is complete, the car park will have boards showing which spaces are occupied, and there will be automatic number plate recognition for vehicles entering and exiting the car park.
Are electric cars really more likely to catch fire?
In short: no. When comparing electric vehicles with hybrid and conventional petrol/diesel vehicles, hybrids have a higher risk of catching fire. Statistically, 100% electric vehicles are less likely to catch fire than other models. For more details, read this RTL Fact Check.
Sergeant-Major Laurent Schauls of the CGDIS said the reason that hybrids perform so poorly in the statistics is down to "two risk sources: the lithium battery, and the combustion engine."
There were 122 car fires in Luxembourg in 2022 - not a single one of these was an electric vehicle, according to official CGDIS data. 11 buses caught fire last year, three of which were electric.
To date there has not been a reported case in Luxembourg of an electric car catching fire at random. The majority of fires are caused by a collision, a production fault, or the charging process. A benefit of electric vehicles is the lack of flammable liquid, which reduces the risk of the fire spreading, added Schauls.
In general, although electric cars are less likely to catch fire, they are more difficult to extinguish in the rare event of a fire. If the fire reaches an electric vehicle's battery, it can reach temperatures of up to 2,700 degrees. Fires must then be monitored for up to 48 hours after they have been extinguished to reduce the risk of them restarting.
In some countries, electric cars are placed in water tanks following a fire to minimise the risk of it catching alight again. In Luxembourg, this method is less popular, said Schauls, but fire fighters work with huge amounts of water and deploy thermal imaging cameras to monitor the vehicles. If the battery is not affected by the fire, then the vehicle is no harder to extinguish than a combustion car.
The CGDIS issues a "rescue sheet" for electric vehicles, showing exactly how to access the battery in order to remove it. Some car manufacturers such as Renault include a special "fire fighter access" in the installation, which permits fire fighters to run water directly to the battery. This renders it easier to extinguish a fire quickly, in around the same time as it would take to put out a fire for a combustion engine. In the future, it is likely there will be more improvements in this area, Schauls concluded, as fire brigades around the world have been working alongside manufacturers in order to improve accessibility in case of fire.