A Tesla Model S burst into flames on Saturday while the driver was on a highway outside Sacramento, forcing authorities to bring in significant manpower and thousands of gallons of water to get the fire under control.
The Metro Fire of Sacramento said the driver of the Model S was traveling at highway speeds on US 50 when they noticed heavy black smoke coming out of the undercarriage. Although the driver managed to pull over and safely get out of the car, the fire became more intense and continued to spread to the front end of the Model S. No one was injured in the fire.
Upon arriving at the scene, Metro Fire Sacramento determined the incident had been caused by a battery fire. Authorities said that the Model S had not sustained damage before the fire.
“Crews worked for over an hour and utilized approximately 6,000 gallons [22,700 liters] of water from 3 fire engines and a water tender for full extinguishment as recommended in the Tesla emergency procedures manual,” Metro Fire Sacramento said in a Facebook post.
While that might seem like an flabbergasting amount of water for a car battery fire, the lithium ion batteries in Teslas and other electric vehicles are trickier to put out and require more resources. When lithium ion batteries catch fire, they burn hotter and faster, as noted by CNBC. In addition, lithium ion batteries can reignite multiple times hours or even days after the original fire.
For reference, Metro Fire Sacramento pointed out that a non-electric car with a traditional combustion engine can be put out with about 700 gallons of water, which is the supply of a single fire engine.
“Modern technology evolution requires continuous advancements in modern firefighting techniques that are currently being evaluated for efficiency,” Metro Fire Sacramento said.
Teslas catching on fire is nothing new. There have been a number of similar incidents over the years. Some owners have blamed Tesla for the car fires and accused the cars of having defective batteries. In 2019, drivers alleged that Tesla updated battery software, purposefully lowering range and increasing charging times, in older cars to reduce the risk of fires. The National Highway Traffic and Safety Administration rejected a petition to investigate Tesla’s battery management software in 2021.
Update 1/30/2023, 11:08 a.m. ET: This post has been updated with additional context related to Teslas on fire.