All types of electric vehicles pose problems for firefighters when they crash and their lithium ion batteries go ablaze, but Teslas have routinely required more than 20,000 gallons of water. That does not bode well for wildfire season!
Above we see the very first ever reported electric vehicle battery fire, an image taken in Orange County on August 25, 2017. A Tesla driver (of course) was doing 70 MPH on a Lake Forest, CA residential street, lost control, careened into a garage and hit a BMW parked within. Both vehicles caught fire, as did the house, but firefighters put out most of the blazes within 20 minutes — except the Tesla. The Tesla burned for another three hours, ultimately requiring 20,000 gallons of water to put out.
“But that was 2017!,” a reasonable person would say. “Surely Tesla hardware has improved since.” Not from the looks of it. The infamous mid-April sort-of Autopilot Tesla crash in Texas caused a battery fire that took 28,000 gallons of water to extinguish, the same amount of water that Woodlands Township Fire Department “normally uses in a month,” and “That same volume of water serves an average American home for nearly two years.” Those are the words from the assessment of an NBC News report on the insane difficulties of extinguishing electric vehicle battery fires, whose lithium ion batteries can burn, Energizer Bunny style, for hours and hours.
Have a look at the Tesla Model S Emergency Response Guide, which says to “use large amounts of water,” along the lines of “3,000-8,000 gallons,” and to “monitor HV [high voltage] battery temperature for at least 24 hours” after the vehicle catches fire. I’m no firefighter, but that seems... unsustainable for just one car accident?
NBC News did ask a firefighter. In Woodlands Township, Texas, where the April Tesla battery fire burned for seven hours, department chief Palmer Buck said the water is not even the worst of the concerns here. “The time on scene is more concerning than even the amount of water,” he told NBC News. “The fact that I might have a unit tied up for multiple hours while it cools down."
This is not just a Tesla problem, it’s a problem among all electric vehicle manufacturers. Tesla battery fires just have the largest number of anecdotal reports of requiring 20,000 or more gallons to extinguish, all of which may be a total or outlier (or not.) Tesla did at least provide NBC News with their emergency fire documentation, as did Volkswagen and Nissan. GM merely gave the pablum statement, “General Motors is committed to developing products that are safe and enjoyable for all our customers,” and Ford did not comment at all.
But this seems a real problem now that wildfires are not just a California thing, not just in terms of the water, but the sheer time commitment for firefighters on singular, routine car accidents. If the barons of crypto and electric vehicles really want to prove their know-it-all bona fides, solving the lithium ion battery fire conundrum would be a lovely place to start. Electric vehicles are certainly going to make investors richer, so it would be great if that community could do more than just move fast and burn things.
Image: Orange County Fire Authority