According to Metro Fire of Sacramento, a Tesla Model S electric saloon started on fire unexpectedly while it was moving at highway speeds in California. Thankfully, no one was injured by the blaze, but it was difficult for the trained crews to extinguish it.
While electric vehicle fires are few and far between compared to petrol car fires, they tend to get a lot of attention, and for good reason. EV fires burn extremely hot and often turn into huge blazes rather quickly, sometimes engulfing the cars in flames. Meanwhile, the fire is difficult to put out, and it can reignite over and over. There have even been cases of EVs seemingly reigniting days after an accident, while the cars are parked at a junkyard or investigation site.
Petrol car fires happen every day, so they're not necessarily at the top of the media's coverage radar. However, there are also many more petrol cars on the road than there are EVs, so it's still too soon to know how EV fires and petrol car fires would stack up if the number of vehicles was even.
It can be argued that petrol is much more volatile and immediately flammable than the lithium-ion batteries in EVs, which we also have in our laptops, smartphones, tablets, etc. That said, the batteries themselves have certain properties that can cause unique issues, which require firefighters to be specially trained to deal with them.
At any rate, the Sacramento Fire Department tweeted that it took about 6,000 gallons (22,700 litres) of water to put out the Tesla Model S fire. The responders had to lift the EV up to get as much water as possible to douse the battery since it continued to reignite as the work progressed.
According to autoblog, Tesla actually recommends the use of "large amounts of water to cool the battery." Several people responded to the above tweets wondering if a different method should have or could have been used to put out the EV fire more quickly, and without the use of so much water. However, Tesla's guide claims:
"It can take between approximately 3,000-8,000 gallons (11,356-30,283 liters) of water, applied directly to the battery, to fully extinguish and cool down a battery fire; always establish or request additional water supply early. If safety permits, lift or tilt the vehicle for more direct access to the battery."
As you can see, the trained firefighters moved forward precisely as Tesla suggests, and were eventually successful. However, as more and more EVs take to our roadways, it's imperative that teams of first responders have special training to ensure the best results in the case of a battery fire. Check out the related video below.