A Tesla in California had sustained major damage in a crash, so, as is normal, it was taken to a junkyard so that it could be dismantled and scrapped. What happened next, however, wasn’t so normal.
Rather than just sitting quietly and peacefully in the junkyard like cars normally do, the Tesla spontaneously combusted, catching on fire seemingly without rhyme or reason and burning so hot for so long that it took firefighters hours and over four and a half thousand gallons of water to finally put out the car for good.
The Sacramento Metro Fire Department, commenting on what was its first Tesla fire, said, according to Fox News:
“The vehicle was fully involved with fire on arrival, and took a significant amount of time, water, and thinking outside the box to extinguish,”
And by “thinking outside the box”, they really mean “thinking outside of box”. Because the battery compartment fire was so hot that the car kept reigniting no matter how much water they sprayed it with, they had to get particularly creative to handle the flaming Tesla that just kept burning, using the wrecking equipment to finally get water where it might cool off the compartment enough to stop the blaze from recurring. Fox News quotes the firefighters as saying, when speaking on that point:
“Crews knocked the fire down, but the car kept re-igniting and off-gassing in the battery compartment. Working with the on-site wrecking yard personnel, the Tesla was moved on its side to gain access to the battery compartment underneath.”
But then even that wasn’t enough, with the residual heat still enough to reignite the flames, even after the firefighters had doused the battery compartment with a steady stream of water.
And so they finally found a way to deal with the flaming wreck, making a pit large enough to shove the reigniting Tesla into, filling it with water, and pushing the car in. That was apparently enough water and cooling to finally put out the fire for good.
The same fire department, commenting on the benefits of that strategy, noted that “The pit ultimately reduced the total amount of water needed and limited the runoff of contaminated water.”
The reason that Teslas and other electric vehicles burn at such a high temperature is because of their lithium-based batteries. Those batteries, while impressive from an energy perspective, are dangerous in that if a fire gets going and they ignite, the heat of the blaze they create can be overwhelming and difficult to deal with, much less put out.
In fact, the heat at which lithium burns means that the fires can take up to 24 hours to go out, with the fires often raging until the full supply of energy within the battery is exhausted by the roaring blaze.
Further, as hinted at by the fire department, the batteries and water poured on them in an attempt to put them out, if firefighters try to extinguish the blaze, can create a toxic runoff.