A Tesla Model S crashed in Austria back in October 2017, impacting a concrete construction barrier at high speed. The 19-year old woman who was driving was “only slightly injured,” and managed to get out of the car before the battery at the front of the car caught fire and burned her alive....this time.
Battery fires burn long and strong, with this burning Tesla taking no less than 35 firefighters and five fire trucks on standby to bring under control. The driver managed to get out and the firefighters stopped the fire before it spread to the entire battery pack.
The fire brigade put the car under a 48-hour quarantine at Tesla’s recommendation to ensure the rest of the batteries didn’t reignite. The manufacturer says to use “large amounts of water” to extinguish a battery fire in its vehicles and to monitor the battery with a thermal imaging camera for at least one hour after it appears completely cooled.
In their words:
“If the high voltage battery catches fire, is exposed to high heat, or is bent, twisted, cracked, or breached in any way, use large amounts of water to cool the battery. DO NOT extinguish with a small amount of water. Always establish or request an additional water supply.”
Batteries can spark more fires even after appearing cool and stable. Think back to Samsung’s issues with its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone for an idea of what a problematic battery can do. Thankfully this Tesla incident caused no harm or fatalities, but it pays to remember that an electric vehicle is no more or no less dangerous than driving around with a tank full of flammable liquid sloshing around.