Tesla Model S Catches Fire Outside Seattle


tesla-fireYesterday morning a Tesla Model S caught fire outside of Seattle, and reports now seem to indicate that after hitting debris in the road, a fire broke out in the electric sedan’s battery pack.

According to reports zooming around the Internet, an unnamed Tesla Model S driver hit something while driving in the HOV lane, causing the electric car to lose power. He pulled over at the car’s behest, and that’s when a fire started. Tesla did say today that the fire originated in the battery, though the compartmentalized design of the battery kept the blaze confined to the front trunk area. This gave the driver ample time to escape the car.

Firefighters arrived at the scene and put out the initial fire, but when they opened a window to get into the car the blaze reignited at the battery pack. The fire report states that spraying water on the fire only seemed to make it worse (duh) and the flames had to be extinguished with dry chemicals. The firefighters then “had to puncture multiple holes in the pack to apply water to the burning material in the battery”, which is where the real crux of the issue is.

Now to be clear, there are over 186,000 vehicle fires every year in America, and an overwhelming majority of them involve gas-powered cars and trucks. But the hysteria surrounding the Chevy Volt battery fire (which happened three weeks after the vehicle’s crash test) is sure to have Tesla on the defensive in regards to this latest mishap, and stock prices have fallen about 10% since the news broke yesterday.

Even though the Tesla Model S got a 5 star crash safety rating, you can’t account for driver error. Autonomous cars can’t come soon enough.

Source: Yahoo! Autos | Jalopnik

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Jason Burroughs

    I’m not getting the reference to driver error.

    • Christopher DeMorro

      Dude hit debris in the road.

    • The angle is that, if the driver hit something or caused the car to exceed it’s intended design specifications the Tesla can’t be blamed.

  • Dave

    Did the police report find the driver at fault?

  • Mark

    “you can’t account for driver error”
    You can account for driver error when it comes to hitting stuff in the road. I hit stuff all the time because I live in the real world. My ten year old 3-series has never caught fire. I’m a Tesla fan but c’mon. I draw the line at catching on fire because you hit road debris.

    • egogg

      There are many hundreds of car fires in ICE vehicles daily*. At least the Model S has the decency to warn you, then catch fire long AFTER you’ve departed the passenger compartment.

      *citation: https://www.nfpa.org/safety-information/for-consumers/vehicles

    • You hit stuff all the time? That’s probably a bad sign, duder.

    • topkill

      Are you seriously that hysterical because 1 car had a fire? And you don’t even know the cause yet? I suppose the 510 fires a day in the US for ICE cars would make you absolutely unstable and unable to function?
      I saw a car outside of Atlanta on fire Sunday on I-75. Other than causing a traffic issue, nobody even cares.
      You want scary? Google Dick Van Dyke Jaguar fire. Seriously, why do people turn into hysterical 12 year old girls when something new happens? As a species, how did we survive when we were still crawling around digging for roots and grubs and one of your family got jumped by a lion? I guess we just kept on breeding fast enough that even the dumb ones and the hysterical ones couldn’t keep us from surviving.
      But in this day and age, you can google a few facts and get some perspective on something like this in 30 seconds. WTF??? You’re fingers can’t type google.com?

      • I Love My Pinto

        Whoa, I don’t think anyone was getting hysterical, Mr.-How-Many-Question-Marks-Can-I-Fit-At-The-End-Of-A-Sentence. I think that using the evidence of car fires happening in an old and established technology that’s been on the roads for over 100 years spread amongst many, many thousands of cars compared to one fire in a new and relatively high-tech machine that hasn’t been a part of normal usage amongst the population isn’t really a fair comparison.

    • egogg

      In full:

      Model S FireBy Elon Musk, Chairman, Product Architect & CEO



      Earlier this week, a Model S traveling at highway speed struck a large metal object, causing significant damage to the vehicle. A curved section that fell off a semi-trailer was recovered from the roadway near where the accident occurred and, according to the road crew that was on the scene, appears to be the culprit. The geometry of the object caused a powerful lever action as it went under the car, punching upward and impaling the Model S with a peak force on the order of 25 tons. Only a force of this magnitude would be strong enough to punch a 3 inch diameter hole through the quarter inch armor plate protecting the base of the vehicle.

      The Model S owner was nonetheless able to exit the highway as instructed by the onboard alert system, bring the car to a stop and depart the vehicle without injury. A fire caused by the impact began in the front battery module – the battery pack has a total of 16 modules – but was contained to the front section of the car by internal firewalls within the pack. Vents built into the battery pack directed the flames down towards the road and away from the vehicle.

      When the fire department arrived, they observed standard procedure, which was to gain access to the source of the fire by puncturing holes in the top of the battery’s protective metal plate and applying water. For the Model S lithium-ion battery, it was correct to apply water (vs. dry chemical extinguisher), but not to puncture the metal firewall, as the newly created holes allowed the flames to then vent upwards into the front trunk section of the Model S. Nonetheless, a combination of water followed by dry chemical extinguisher quickly brought the fire to an end.

      It is important to note that the fire in the battery was contained to a small section near the front by the internal firewalls built into the pack structure. At no point did fire enter the passenger compartment.

      Had a conventional gasoline car encountered the same object on the highway, the result could have been far worse. A typical gasoline car only has a thin metal sheet protecting the underbody, leaving it vulnerable to destruction of the fuel supply lines or fuel tank, which causes a pool of gasoline to form and often burn the entire car to the ground. In contrast, the combustion energy of our battery pack is only about 10% of the energy contained in a gasoline tank and is divided into 16 modules with firewalls in between. As a consequence, the effective combustion potential is only about 1% that of the fuel in a comparable gasoline sedan.

      The nationwide driving statistics make this very clear: there are 150,000 car fires per year according to the National Fire Protection Association, and Americans drive about 3 trillion miles per year according to the Department of Transportation. That equates to 1 vehicle fire for every 20 million miles driven, compared to 1 fire in over 100 million miles for Tesla. This means you are 5 times more likely to experience a fire in a conventional gasoline car than a Tesla!

      For consumers concerned about fire risk, there should be absolutely zero doubt that it is safer to power a car with a battery than a large tank of highly flammable liquid.

      — Elon

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