A Tesla Model S caught fire in Seattle, Washington and it was pinpointed as beginning in the all-electric vehicle’s battery pack. A passerby even caught video of the Tesla sitting at the end of an exit ramp with the front of the car engulfed in flames as firefighters worked to control the blaze.
According to Tesla spokesman Liz Jarvis-Shean, the fire wasn’t a spontaneous event, but was caused by something metallic hitting the Tesla’s battery. The 85 kWh battery in the Tesla Model S is mounted below the passenger compartment floor. It’s designed with the same kind of lithium-ion technology that you’ll find in laptops and phones.
It’s not the first time this type of battery has faced fire safety questions. There have been issues with its use in the Chevy Volt plug-in and, stepping into an entirely different industry, in the Boeing 787. Several fires were reported in the Volt and the worldwide fleet of 787s was temporarily grounded to investigate fires starting in its lithium-ion batteries.
Seattle firefighters reported that putting out the battery fire posed more of a challenge than they first anticipated. They started out using water, but found that it actually made things worse, so they switched to a dry chemical extinguisher.
Even then, they had to take apart the front end of the Tesla, remove the battery and cut into it with a circular saw. They were then able to apply water to the battery and finally extinguish the fire for good.
The vehicle owner was driving the Tesla Model S south along route 167 when he thought he hit some kind of metal debris on the highway. He decided to get off the road and the vehicle broke down at the end of the exit ramp. It was then that he smelled burning and the fire started.
Tesla was quick to point out that this was not a spontaneous fire, but one cause because of damage inflicted to the battery. They also noted, and you can see this in the video, that the design of the vehicle helped contain the flames to the front of the car.
Traditionally, NHTSA investigators would be on their way to Washington state to investigate the incident, but the government shutdown has temporarily suspended field investigations so we’ll have to wait a bit longer than usual for their assessment of the fire.
And check out our 0-60 mash-up review of the Tesla Model S vs the Audi S8…
Nicole Wakelin fell in love with cars as a teenager when she got to go for a ride in a Ferrari. It was red and it was fast and that was all that mattered. Game over. She considers things a bit more carefully now, but still has a weakness for fast, beautiful cars. Nicole also writes for NerdApproved and GeekMom.