Tesla Crash Shows What Firefighters Deal With When a Battery Pack Catches Fire

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
tesla crash shows what firefighters deal with when a battery pack catches fire

A severe head-on crash in Indianapolis last night claimed the lives of two people — but because it’s a Tesla, the story made national news.

According to the Indianapolis Star, the Model S impacted a tree, throwing debris 150 yards and starting a fire that consumed the vehicle. This isn’t a story about whether the vehicle or its electronic systems may have caused the crash — police made it clear that speed was a factor.

Rather, the aftermath of this crash shows what firefighters face when the lithium-ion battery pack in an electric car catches fire.

The crash took place near the city’s downtown, on a street that raises no suspicions of potential Autopilot use. Deceased are 27-year-old Casey Speckman and 44-year-old Kevin McCarthy.

“The impact of the crash disintegrated the car leaving a debris field over 150 yards long,” Indianapolis Fire Department Battalion Chief Rita Reith said in a media release. “Firefighters arrived and had to contend with the car fire and multiple fires in the road left by the small batteries and magnesium strewn about.”

Incredible video of batteries burning & exploding after violent crash in Two dead. Witness say car was speeding. pic.twitter.com/QvumAn5bIW

— Michael (@MikeThePhotog) November 3, 2016

Model S vehicles built since early 2014 contain a titanium underbody shield designed to further protect the potentially volatile battery from damage. However, there’s only so much an automaker can do to protect components during a high-speed impact.

Warnings printed on lithium-ion batteries found in household appliances and devices exist for a reason. The lithium used in the battery reacts when exposed to air, and the electrolyte is flammable. A puncture, or exposure to heat, makes for a dangerous situation.

“There’s a lot of volatility in those batteries when they’re exposed unnecessarily,” Reid told NBC affiliate WTHR. “They are pretty well-contained until they get into something like this where the impact literally made the car just completely blow apart.”

Firefighters smothered the flames with dry powder and water to reach the occupants.

[Image capture: RTV6]

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  • Ponchoman49 Ponchoman49 on Nov 04, 2016

    One more reason I will never buy a car with electronic touch sensitive door handles. How do you get out of the damn thing when the power system fails after the batteries are flung all over the place? Some technology is just bone headed overkill stupid.

  • Vulpine Vulpine on Nov 06, 2016

    I read this article earlier in the week when it first came out, then got a surprise of sorts when I watched a program on the Science Channel called "Outrageous Acts of Science". According to that program, water, specifically, can in itself cause lithium to 'explode', so using water to suppress these lithium fires in this crash actually exacerbated the problem for rescuers whereas a simple steel-bladed snow shovel might have made it possible to approach the car and extract the victims.

  • Tassos And all 3 were ordered by Fisker's mother. Seriously, given Fisker's terrible record of Failure in the past, only an utter loser, (for example, VGhost or Art Vandelay?), looking for a BEV terrible enough to be a proper replacement of his 11 mile range Fiat 500E, would order one of these. (apart from Fisker's mother)
  • Tassos And all 3 of them were ordered by Fisker's mother.Seriously, after Fisker's DISMAL record of UTTER FAILURE in the past, only a GOD DAMNED MORON would order this one.
  • RHD Any truth to the unconfirmed rumor that the new, larger model will be called the bZ6X? We could surmise that with a generous back seat it certainly should be!
  • Damon Thomas Adding to the POSITIVES... It's a pretty fun car to mod
  • GregLocock Two adjacent states in Australia have different attitudes to roadworthy inspections. In NSW they are annual. In Victoria they only occur at change of ownership. As you'd expect this leads to many people in Vic keeping their old car.So if the worrywarts are correct Victoria's roads would be full of beaten up cars and so have a high accident rate compared with NSW. Oh well, the stats don't agree.https://www.lhd.com.au/lhd-insights/australian-road-death-statistics/