Tesla Model X Fire
At 6:15 pm on August 25th, 2017 a man in his mid-30s driving a Tesla Model X lost control of his car and crashed into the garage of a single-family, single story home, taking out a load-bearing beam and starting a raging fire.
Approximately 45 minutes to an hour after the initial knockdown and removal of the vehicle firefighters noticed the vehicle beginning to off-gas in a distinct, heavy, manner. A fog-like smoke was emitting from the car. At first firefighters believed that it had the look of a chemical fire, but when the Tesla began to emit an orange, jet-like flame something new was clearly at play.
The Tesla had been traveling at a high rate of speed when it left the road, entering a culvert and violently launching itself into the garage. The impact caused tremendous damage and firefighters reported seeing small lithium ion batteries scattered about. They were dealing with the thermal runaway of the Tesla’s main battery.
A firefighter’s primary tool is water, but water wasn’t cutting it for this fire. And so, one of the firefighters got out their smartphone and looked up Tesla’s guide for emergency responders, which informed them of their two fairly obvious options: put it out with water, or let it burn. The kicker, though was that it could take a LOT of water.
Because this fire was in a residential neighborhood it was decided to try extinguishment, and an attack was prepared. Using two hand lines, firefighters hit the Tesla with very high flow rates for nearly an hour and a half, at which point the fire went out.
With the fire out but risk of re-ignition still present, crews decided to engage their heavy rescue team to lift the vehicle off the ground and block it up so they could have better access to its underside. It was clear that the fire mostly involved the undercarriage of the vehicle and the the battery assembly that makes up the floor in most electric vehicles.
At this point the car sat, comfortably not on fire, for over an hour. But that wasn’t the end, because a few hours later a tow truck arrived to remove the Tesla and it seemed as though just the tilting of the flatbed and putting the car up on the flat bed cause the Tesla to reignite. Fortunately, firefighters were able to get that knocked down fairly quickly. The advantage they had this time was that the vehicle was lifted. They asked the tow truck driver to simply slide it back on the flatbed and tilt it nose down so they would have access to the bottom of the vehicle. From there, they used a couple of pre-connects again with large amounts of water, this time hitting it early and not allowing the Tesla battery to reach a state where it was running away thermally. Firefighters estimate that from this point the fire was extinguished within another 10 to 15 minutes.