(KTXL) — Fire crews are calling for innovative solutions to extinguish lithium-ion battery fires after it took 6,000 gallons of water to put out Tesla in flames on a Sacramento County highway.
Teslas and other electric vehicles (EVs) are powered by lithium-ion batteries, and firefighters have only two options when responding, let the flames burn out or drown the car in water, which could still take several hours.
Fire crews say it’s time for a new solution.
A Metro Fire crew used 6,000 gallons of water this weekend putting out one Tesla that caught fire, and a firefighter from the department says you can’t just put out an EV fire as you do with a vehicle that uses traditional fuel.
What ends up happening is you have a process that is called thermal runaway, when one of about 8,000 cells overheats and spills its contents and can ignite a fire that spreads to the whole battery component, Capt. Daniel Hoy told FOX40 News.
The difference forces crews to prepare differently, calling for more firefighters, for longer periods of time and more water.
This is not the first time Metro Fire has faced the challenge of extinguishing a Tesla within the last year.
In June 2022 a crashed Tesla caught fire in a wrecking yard and the car continued to reignite despite water being sprayed directly on the burning battery compartment.
Eventually, a small pit was dug and filled with water and the Tesla was placed inside of it, fully submerging the batteries and stopping the fire, according to Metro Fire.
Currently, crews have limited options when it comes to these types of fires.
They can shoot water at the car for hours until the fire is completely out, they can drop the car in a pool of water, or they can let it burn.
“Prop that thing up a little bit, tilt it with some high lift jacks, and direct a host stream onto the surface of that battery compartment in the hopes that you’re going to keep the surrounding batteries cool and dissipate that heat through the shielding material,” Hoy said.
Water isn’t being applied to the batteries, which is why it takes longer because the environment around the battery needs to be kept cool, Hoy said.
“You are not going to put out the fire of that one battery, but you can prevent the spreading it to the other batteries,” Hoy said.
Metro Fire is well-staffed and has a good network of fire crews ready to respond if they need help, but other fire departments in rural areas with fewer resources may have more trouble with these EV fires.
Capt. Hoy says they need another solution.
“I would hope that sometime in the next two, three, maybe even five years we’ll see some developments that can be applied on the manufacturer’s side to help mitigate this and or better, better battery technology that both increases safety and reduces the chance of fires,” Hoy said.
Hoy says with California’s new incentives and laws to move toward more zero-emissions vehicles, he expects these fires to become more common.
Lithium-ion batteries are not only in these EVs, but they’re also in Tesla home chargers and solar storage units. Fires haven’t occurred from the chargers and storage units, but are another cause for concern going forward.