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Warning: video contains strong language



A fire that destroyed a Tesla Model S electric car near Seattle began in the vehicle's battery pack, officials said Wednesday, creating challenges for firefighters who tried to put out the flames.

Company spokeswoman Liz Jarvis-Shean said the fire Tuesday was caused by a large metallic object that directly hit one of the battery pack's modules in the pricey Model S. No one was injured in the accident.

Shares of Tesla Motors Inc. fell more than 6 percent Wednesday after an Internet video showed flames spewing from the vehicle, which Tesla has touted as the safest car in America.

The liquid-cooled 85 kilowatt-hour battery in the Tesla Model S is mounted below the passenger compartment floor and uses lithium-ion chemistry similar to the batteries in laptop computers and mobile phones. Investors and companies have been particularly sensitive to the batteries' fire risks, especially given issues in recent years involving the Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid car and Boeing's new 787 plane.

In an incident report released under Washington state's public records law, firefighters wrote that they appeared to have Tuesday's fire under control, but the flames reignited. Crews found that water seemed to intensify the fire, so they began using a dry chemical extinguisher.

After dismantling the front end of the vehicle and puncturing holes in the battery pack, responders used a circular saw to cut an access hole in the front section to apply water to the battery, according to documents. Only then was the fire extinguished.

The incident happened as the Tesla's driver was traveling southbound on state Route 167 through the Seattle suburb of Kent, said Trooper Chris Webb of the Washington State Patrol. The driver said he believed he had struck some metal debris on the freeway, so he exited the highway and the vehicle became disabled.

The driver, who did not return a phone call seeking comment, told authorities he began to smell something burning and then the vehicle caught fire.

Firefighters arrived within 3 minutes of the first call. It's not clear from records how long the firefighting lasted, but crews remained on scene for 2 1/2 hours.

Tesla said the flames were contained to the front of the $70,000 vehicle due to its design and construction.

"This was not a spontaneous event," Jarvis-Shean said. "Every indication we have at this point is that the fire was a result of the collision and the damage sustained through that."

There was too much damage from the fire to see what damage debris may have caused, Webb said.
The automobile website Jalopnik.com posted photos of the blaze that it says were taken by a reader, along with a video.

Shares of Palo Alto, Calif.-based Tesla have risen more than 400 percent this year. But some investors likely were alarmed that the fire could be an indication of a flaw in the company's battery packs, and Tesla shares fell $12.05 to $180.95 Wednesday.

Also contributing to the stock's decline was a rare analyst downgrade. R.W. Baird analyst Ben Kallo cut his rating on the stock from "Outperform" to "Neutral," telling investors that while he's still bullish on Tesla's long-term prospects, the company has "significant milestones" during the next 18 months that come with risk.

The company's battery system and the Model S itself have received rave reviews, including a top crash-test score from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and a tie for the highest auto rating ever recorded by Consumer Reports magazine.

But lithium-ion batteries have raised concerns in other vehicles. Two years ago, battery fires broke out in three Chevrolet Volt plug-in hybrid cars after crash-testing, but NHTSA investigators determined that the Volt was no more risky than vehicles with conventional gasoline engines.

Officials from General Motors Co. and the government believed the fires were caused by coolant leaking from damaged plastic casing around the batteries after side-impact test crashes. At the time, they said there were no real-world fires in any Volts.

Still, the fires tarnished the Volt's reputation and cut into sales. Recently, though, sales have recovered. Sales are up about 3 percent this year, with GM selling about 17,000 Volts through September.

Earlier this year, Boeing Co.'s worldwide fleet of 787s was grounded because lithium-ion batteries overheated or caught fire. Flights resumed four months later after a revamped battery system was installed.

Under normal circumstances, investigators from NHTSA, the government's auto safety watchdog, would travel to Washington state to investigate the Tesla crash. But with the partial government shutdown, NHTSA's field investigations have been suspended.



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  • 13 Comments
      gvette75
      • 1 Year Ago
      LMAO...another Obama investment going down the tubes. Oh that's right, you demonrats like that.
        rkeeeballs
        • 1 Year Ago
        @gvette75
        You just proved yourself to be the most ignorant poster on this story....congrat's tool !
      • 1 Year Ago
      Are you kidding me? Why does major media keep doing everything they can to have electric automobiles fail/ That piece that should have been retracted by the new York times on how the battery died on route from DC to boston, alway talking about lack of charging stations... it goes on and on.. Let me ask this,, how many other cars caught on fire on the same day? What were the brands? The only good news about this is I can buy some more stock at this depressed price. Once they come out with the Tesla at $30K it is going to be crazy popular.
      Mark
      • 1 Year Ago
      I still want one.
        almasearch
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Mark
        me too :-) The CNN report on this particular Tesla vehicle fire also said that the driver had plenty of time to exit the vehicle (NOT that this makes this guy any happier that his pricey car just went up in flames, but it's good he was not injured in any way). I think accidents are going to happen no matter how "safe" a vehicle is, but maybe they'll still learn from this case and make further improvements. Gasoline-run vehicles certainly have their share of fires.
      • 1 Year Ago
      What they didn't say was that the car's self-evaluating system told him to pull off the freeway because the car knew that something was wrong. The very small, contained fire that was only in a small part of the battery grew larger, as seen in the video, when the firefighters drilled holes into the car, allowing more oxygen to reach the flames. They also used water on the lithium ion battery, which didn't help. Like the article said, they were only able to put out the fire when they used a dry chemical extinguisher. Obviously the firefighters didn't know that it was a chemical fire, but clearly this is being blown out of proportion.
      alfredschrader
      • 1 Year Ago
      Li car battery pack I invented uses fusable links, not solid bus bars to connect the cells. A problem with any individual cell causes a safety shutdown until the problem cell can be isolated and replaced.
      starkmaddness
      • 1 Year Ago
      Yes, batteries are so dangerous and flammable, not like gasoline. Never seen a regular car on fire... /sarcasm
      yolanda
      • 1 Year Ago
      "Direct shortout condition is always a problem like when the Golden Gate bridge FALLS on your batteries!!"
      Von Holtz
      • 1 Year Ago
      Just a Tidbit of information concerning Lithium Batteries being used for Electric Cars. Many People consider it a relatively new technology. On the Contrary,; I remember reading the old 'Tom Swift Series' which was specificlly 'Tom Swift and His Electric Runabout' where he was going to use a Lithium Battery to power his car. This particular book of the series was first published around 1913. Concerning the above article; it must be remembered that most fully charged batteries do not take kindly to having a short circuit applied directly across their terminals,; be it a misplaced Tire Iron, large screw driver, or even a large wrench. You just can't make cars idiot proof!!
        Jo
        • 1 Year Ago
        @Von Holtz
        The person driving the burnt car was no more an idiot than you are; just an average person driving along and suddenly they're standing in the rain watching the firefighters put out the fire again and again. I thoroughly believe we need alternative energy and means of transportion. I just wish they'd get the worst of the bugs worked out before they inflict it on us.
      gerkonig2
      • 1 Year Ago
      I use lithium batteries because of the great charge density. But a short can cause a fire, a very hot and dangerous fire. The reason for the fire is the chemical reaction caused, that causes the flames. But, by definition, all fuels burn...
      BOB BOWEN
      • 1 Year Ago
      So a car caught fire and so did alot of others. I am sure that cars go on fire every day.
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