Three fire engines emptied their tanks extinguishing a single Tesla Model S car

The battery of a Tesla Model S car caught fire on the highway, bringing the fire under control requiring nearly 23 tons of water from three fire engines, plus a special container to carry the wreckage that could reignite at any time.

While in the case of LPG cars, the main danger is that of explosion due to the accumulation of gas, in the case of gasoline-powered vehicles the danger is even greater, as the leakage of fuel from the punctured tank could trigger a violent fire, endangering both the lives of passengers trapped in the vehicle and the safety of those around them. Unfortunately, electric cars are no safer, as Li-ion batteries can start fires at least as violent as a leaking petrol tank on the asphalt, the main difference being that EVs are even more difficult to extinguish.

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Unlike setting fire to a gasoline- or diesel-powered car, initial smothering of the flames does not solve the problem for EVs. In the case of EVs, Li-ion cell failure tends to create cascading effects, with spontaneous combustion of a single Li-ion cell causing catastrophic damage to adjacent cells. Hence, new short circuits and good microfires that exponentially amplify until the whole car turns into a torch.

Since this is a fire fueled by uncontrolled chemical reactions triggered within the Li-ion batteries and not the burning of fuel in reaction with oxygen in the air, spraying any amount of water only produces temporary suppression of the flames. The seemingly extinguished car can reignite at any time, days or even weeks after the initial fire.

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According to statements obtained from the scene “Crews worked for over an hour and used approximately 22,700 gallons of water from 3 fire engines and a local water source for complete extinguishment as recommended in the Tesla emergency procedures manual.”

For reference, Metro Fire Sacramento pointed out that a non-electric car with a traditional combustion engine can be extinguished with approximately 2700 gallons of water, representing the contents of a single fire truck.

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