California Firefighters Use 6,000 Gallons of Water to Put Out Tesla Fire on Highway 50

California Firefighters Use 6,000 Gallons of Water to Put Out Tesla Fire on Highway 50
A Tesla car sits parked at a Tesla Supercharger in Petaluma, Calif., on Sept. 23, 2020. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

A Tesla Model S burst into flames on Saturday afternoon in California while driving on Highway 50, causing two eastbound lanes to close, officials said.

The electric vehicle was traveling at “freeway speeds” when its battery compartment “spontaneously” caught fire, the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District said on Twitter. The incident happened around 3:41 p.m.

Firefighters called in two fire engines, a water tender, and a ladder truck, and used approximately 6,000 gallons of water to extinguish the blaze as the battery cells “continued to combust,” fire officials said. They also used car jacks to lift the vehicle in order to put out the fire underneath it.

Photos taken at the scene show severe damage to the car’s front.

The fire department reported no injuries from the incident.

Electric vehicle battery fires are receiving growing national attention as the Biden administration seeks to promote the production and sale of electric vehicles as a key part of his climate and energy agenda. President Joe Biden has touted electric vehicles as a more affordable and environment-friendly option than traditional gas-powered cars, and has vowed that half the vehicles sold across the nation will be electric or plug-in hybrids by 2030.

While it’s long been known that all lithium-ion batteries, including those used in cell phones, have the potential to explode or burn, lithium-ion battery fires in electric cars are significantly harder to put out.

In April 2021, an auto-piloting Tesla Model S collided with a tree in Houston, Texas, killing the two elderly passengers and sparking a massive fire. Its battery continued to ignite despite the use of four hours and more than 30,000 gallons of water to extinguish it, fire officials reported at that time. At one point, firefighters at the scene called Tesla to ask them how to put out the battery fire.

In another crash involving a Tesla Model X catching fire at a gas station in Austin, Texas, in August 2021, firefighters said they had to use 40 times more water to suppress that fire than they would typically use for a burning gas-powered car.

“Normally a car fire you can put out with 500 to 1,000 gallons of water,” Austin Fire Department Division Chief Thayer Smith said, reported The Independent. “But Tesla’s may take up to 30,000-40,000 gallons of water, maybe even more, to extinguish the battery pack once it starts burning and that was the case here.”
Tesla maintains that its EVs are the “safest cars in the world” on the safety report section of its website. Citing data from the U.S. Federal Highway Administration, the company claims that gas-powered cars are about 11 times more likely to catch fire than one of its own cars.

Specifically, the company uses a metric called “miles driven per vehicle fire,” saying that for the period between 2012 to 2021, there has been about one Tesla vehicle fire for every 210 million miles traveled. By comparison, federal data suggests that there is a vehicle fire for every 19 million miles traveled.

Tesla didn’t respond to a request for comment.

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