Firefighters work to contain a blaze Sunday afternoon at American Solartechnics Cars on Route 1 in Stockton Springs. Credit: Courtesy of Tom Gozce

A fire that damaged a Stockton Springs electric and hybrid car business Sunday afternoon most likely started when a lithium battery was left in a cordless tool charger and overheated, according to the owner and fire officials.

Tom Gozce, the owner of American Solartechnics Cars on Route 1, said that the tool charger was adjacent to 200 cans of spray paint in his shop, which he uses to do work on Toyota Priuses and other vehicles.

“You could hear them popping,” he said. “That’s where the intense part of the fire was.”

The fire began around 4:30 p.m. and took firefighters from four different departments at least two hours to put out, according to Searsport Fire Chief Andy Webster.

Gozce lost one vehicle, a Prius, that was on the lift in his shop. Many parts also were melted and burned and cannot be salvaged. Altogether, he estimates that the fire did between $30,000 and $60,000 in damage.

“I have a lot of parts that were opposite the fire that were melted,” he said. “They’re garbage now.”

Although the service component of his business has been put on hold for the time being because of the damage to his shop, he is continuing to sell cars.

“My biggest concern is that people think it’s a hybrid battery that started this,” Gozce said. “It was a lithium battery that started the whole thing. I guess the lesson to be learned is that you don’t leave lithium batteries on the charger after they’re charged.”

This spring, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration opened an investigations into electric and hybrid vehicle batteries after five automakers issued recalls due to possible defects that could cause stalling or fires.

Webster said fire officials agreed with the notion that the fire was started by the battery on the charger.

“It probably overheated and melted and caught on fire, and caught the building on fire,” he said.

The lithium-ion batteries that are used in power tools and chargers are generally very safe, according to a 2016 article in Woodworker’s Journal. But it is a good idea to remove all batteries from the tools when they are not being used, and to pull the batteries from the chargers when they have been recharged.

Although there were Toyota Prius batteries in the shop, they melted a bit but did not catch fire, Gozce said.

Webster said that firefighters’ efforts were complicated by the presence of the batteries and they had to fight it mostly from the outside.

The fire departments were able to keep traffic moving on Route 1 as they fought the blaze.