Elon’s Ticking Time Bombs: Hurricane Hilary Flooding Could Spark Tesla Fires Across California

Connecticut Tesla still burning (Stamford Fire Department)
Stamford Fire Department

Hurricane Hilary, which has created the heaviest rain fall in Southern California in 84 years, leading to severe flooding, could end up sparking Tesla battery fires across the region.

Last year, electric vehicles (EVs) caught on fire in Florida after becoming waterlogged during Hurricane Ian, giving firefighters a new challenge that they hadn’t faced before. Fire officials explained that seawater from the storm surge reacted with the EVs’ batteries, sparking the flames.

Elon Musk shrugs

Elon Musk shrugs (Scott Olsen/Getty)

And California has far more EVs than any other state — an excess of 900,000 compared with just 168,000 in Florida, with more than a third of them estimated to be produced by Tesla, Newsweek noted.

Greg Brannon, director of automotive engineering research at the American Automobile Association (AAA), told the magazine, “The fact that it’s saltwater or freshwater makes some difference, but not all the difference — the truth is any water is problematic and can cause shorting and damage to EV batteries.”

The U.S. Fire Administration says residual salt from seawater can form conductive bridges within batteries, which can cause short circuits and overheating, and cited an example in which two houses burned to the ground in Florida after an EV caught fire.

When an EV catches fire, it is much more difficult and time consuming to put out, given that the components of an EV battery permit the blaze to create its own heat and oxygen.

As television star and car enthusiast Jeremy Clarkson explained what makes such fires so dangerous in a recent op-ed:

Clarkson also pointed out the difficulty in extinguishing fires in electric vehicles, citing an incident where an electric car burned for days due to a phenomenon known as “thermal runaway” in the battery pack.

“The electrical car that Richard Hammond rolled down a hill while filming for the Grand Tour burned for days. And then, after the fire had died down, something in the battery pack called ‘thermal runaway’ caused it to rear back up again. And this went on for weeks,” Clarkson explained.

Last year, following EV fires caused by Hurricane Ian, Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis sent a letter to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) requesting information on the fire risks created by saltwater mixing with the batteries of electric vehicles.

You can follow Alana Mastrangelo on Facebook and Twitter at @ARmastrangelo, and on Instagram.


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