What Caused the Fire on The Conception? Sentinel Issues: Escapability Issues; Possible Lithium Ion Battery Issues.

In a world where tragedies seem almost commonplace now, let’s do what we can to prevent those that are preventable. We know that at least 25 and likely 34 people died from a fire that became inescapable to all but 5 crew members on the dive boat, Conception. Obviously there was no way for the majority of the passengers to escape into the water. The Los Angeles Times summarizes the state of the investigation.

I have seen escapability problems repeatedly over the years in different contexts. I have seen motorhome fires where there is only one door and no secondary escape route leading to multiple deaths in fires like this one. We all can reflect on the Ghostship fire. Again, there was no escape route and too many people perished because of that.

It is human nature to believe that it will never happen to us. But these tragedies are preventable- or at least mitigatable. The solution is not to forego diving or never to own an RV or motorcycle. Life involves risk to some degree. That said, wherever we go, we can all make sure there is an alternate escape route distant from the primary one. We can make sure it works. We are able to investigate and ask questions as to what the procedure is in the event there is a fire. We can be certain that wherever we are that there are smoke alarms to act as sentinels so we have a chance to escape a fire.

But as for the owners of the TRUTH AQUATICS certainly one thing that likely did not happen was there was no watchman up to see the fire start. This enterprise required that. Probably had someone been awake roaming the boat all night the fire could have been seen when it began and the passengers awakened and saved.

As to the cause of this fire, at the moment it is guesswork. I have seen charging laptop batteries cause fires. Lithium-ion batteries are a well-known fire hazard. Lithium is a volatile element and it takes very little during the manufacture of these cells to allow debris or impurity to breach the integrity of a cell. They will explode or catch fire while charging. People usually charge their devices at night and often that is when lithium-ion battery fires start. Our office has had a great deal of experience and success with lithium-ion battery fire disasters.

We may never know all the details depending upon the extent of information and evidence divers and those reconstructing this disaster find. But we will likely find some.

Our sympathies and hearts go out to the families and loved ones and everyone involved in this one.

Scott Righthand

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