Tuesday, fire companies in Clearfield County responded to a car on fire. But this wasn’t your typical car. Rather, they say it was a Tesla. Fire departments tell us fighting electric car fires is quite different from regular ones. Are local fire departments ready to handle electric vehicle fires as more of these cars hit the streets?
For those Clearfield firefighters, they say this was one of the first electric vehicle fires they’ve had to deal with. More people are buying electric cars, bikes, and scooters; and as one State College firefighter tells 6 News, they must prepare for this new reality.
According to an online post from the Morris Township Volunteer Fire Company and the Columbia Volunteer Fire Company, multiple crews in Clearfield and Centre counties were dispatched to Interstate 80 Tuesday morning to battle a car fire involving a Tesla.
Authorities say due to the vehicle’s lithium ion battery, crews quickly ran out of water and required additional tankers to help extinguish the blaze. Fire officials say crews battled the blaze for approximately two hours.
State College’s Alpha Fire Company didn’t respond to the burning car, but, like other fire departments, they are also preparing for EV fires.
“Now, if we go to a general vehicle fire, we put the fire out, the tow truck takes it away. Not a big issue when you arrive on the scene,”
He and some other Alpha members recently received training in New York City on putting out EV fires.
“Now with this EV fire, once you put the fire out, you need to continuously cool those batteries to get the temperature low enough that it doesn’t reignite,” he says. “Now we’re at 3000 gallons of water, taking an hour — compared to 500 gallons a minute, you know, taking 20 minutes.”
And that’s on the lower end. In total, fire officials say they used approximately 12,000 gallons of water to finally put out the flames on the Tesla.
“The hazards are much the same as far as toxic byproducts of combustion,” he notes. “Once you put out a normal internally combusted vehicle, the hazard kind of goes away. Or once the fire’s put out, things cool down, you’re okay.”
According to Johnson, there’s no extra equipment needed for EV fires compared to that of a gas-run vehicle.
Another issue, is the car reigniting.
“Once the towing company takes the vehicle, now they’re stuck with this time bomb,” he points out. “Yes, it could not reignite or it could be 22 hours later in a parking lot, beside their building, and in storage.”
He emphasizes that just charging electric vehicles of all types can be risky.
“If you’re gonna be charging batteries, whether it’s a vehicle, whether it’s a micro-mobility scooter, or a bike, please don’t just, you know, plug it in and go to bed.”
Firefighters believe they have the equipment and support they need to battle electric car fires. But the concern is how long it takes to fight them.