Tesla 'Spontaneously Caught Fire,' Kept Igniting

Electric vehicle had been damaged in a crash weeks before
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 22, 2022 10:40 AM CDT
Tesla 'Spontaneously Caught Fire,' Kept Igniting
The burned Tesla Model S.   (Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District)

(Newser) – A Tesla Model S had been sitting in a scrapyard for three weeks following a collision when it spontaneously burst into flames this month, then kept re-igniting, transforming into "a heap of melted and burned metal," per the Washington Post. The Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District described how the electric vehicle, which had been severely damaged in a crash, became a fireball in the wrecking yard in Rancho Cordova, Calif., in a June 11 release. "Crews knocked the fire down, but the car kept re-igniting and off-gassing in the battery compartment," the department said. Even after firefighters gained access to the battery compartment, "the vehicle would still re-ignite due to the residual heat."

Crews eventually dug a pit, filled it with water, and submerged the portion of the car including the battery. In all, it took 4,500 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze—which burned hotter than 3,000 degrees—or about as much water as needed to put out a typical building fire, department spokesperson Capt. Parker Wilbourn tells the Post. But Wilbourn says it could have easily required 20,000 or 30,000 gallons, well above Tesla's estimate. A Tesla Model S guide for first responders notes 3,000 to 8,000 gallons of water should be "applied directly" to the lithium-ion battery, which will burn until all its energy is released. It also warns not to submerge a vehicle to extinguish a battery fire.

Wilbourn says it's unclear why the vehicle "spontaneously caught fire," as in previous cases. Tesla's guide notes "a damaged high voltage battery can create rapid heating of the battery cells." It adds "a Model S that has been involved in a submersion, fire, or a collision that has compromised the high voltage battery should be stored in an open area at least 50 feet from any exposure" due to fire risk. But that doesn't explain why a Tesla Model Y burst into flames after suddenly losing power in Vancouver, Canada, last month, forcing the driver to kick out a window to escape, per CTV News. This isn't a problem specific to Tesla as carmakers including General Motors, Audi, and Hyundai, have recalled electric vehicles over fire concerns. (Read more Tesla stories.)

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