Crews contain large fire at lithium plant in North Carolina

Crews responded to a three-alarm fire at the Livent Corporation lithium plant in Gaston...
Published: Jun. 26, 2023 at 8:21 AM EDT|Updated: Jun. 26, 2023 at 12:48 PM EDT
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GASTON COUNTY, N.C. (WBTV/Gray News) - A large fire that broke out at a Gaston County plant early Monday morning was allowed to burn due to it involving water-reactive lithium, officials said.

That was part of the update provided roughly 10 hours after the fire at Livent Corporation, a lithium plant in Bessemer City. Officials said Highway 161 had since reopened to traffic.

Scott Hunter, interim emergency management director for Gaston County, said the crews got the call at 1:20 a.m. Monday. Eventually, three alarms were struck.

“What the fire crews encountered was lithium,” Hunter said.

He added that due to the water-reactive nature of lithium, no water could be applied, and the decision was made to allow the impacted section of the building to burn. Fire crews and plant employees then went in with forklifts to remove 200 drums of material from other parts of the plant, according to Hunter.

When the lithium burned, it created a “lava-type product” that was contained on the property, Hunter said.

County officials said no evacuations have been deemed necessary, and the smoke is not believed to be hazardous. Officials said no injuries have been reported and all workers have been accounted for.

It is not yet known what sparked the blaze.

Harris Walker with Livent Corporation said the fire has largely subsided, except for some smoke and a few smoldering pockets.

“We’re so grateful that there have been no injuries to Livent personnel or any first responders,” Walker said.

Work at the lithium plant is suspended for the time being, staff said.

According to officials, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the N.C. State Bureau of Investigation and the state fire marshal’s office are assisting with the investigation.

Hunter said part of the investigation will involve drones.

The Charlotte Fire Department assisted multiple Gaston County crews.

According to the city’s website, the plant is a leading source of lithium-ion battery technology, producing components for the electric vehicle industry.