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Electric Car Batteries May Pose Greater Risk of Fires

July 23, 2021 in ,

In May, a fatal driverless Tesla crash that occurred in Houston prompted scrutiny of the company’s Autopilot feature and the marketing around it. This tragic outcome led to an unsettling finding—the crash that killed the two men sparked a tremendous electrical fire that took hours to extinguish, compared to just minutes it would take to extinguish a typical car fire. 

Here, the New York car accident lawyers at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. discuss the dangers of electric car battery fires and how they may pose a greater risk compared to gas car fires.

Electrical Fire Rages After Houston Tesla Crash

First responders to the scene of the Houston Tesla accident noted that the blazing car fire required more time and more water to extinguish than a typical gas car. According to Constable Mark Herman of the Harris County 4th Precinct who responded to the Tesla car fire, more than 30,000 gallons of water were used to extinguish the flames. This is typically the amount of water that fire departments go through in a month, and significantly more water than it typically takes to extinguish a typical car fire, which is usually about 300 gallons of water. 

It took four hours for first responders to extinguish the Tesla fire. Average car fires take just minutes to extinguish. Ultimately, a puncture in the vehicle’s titanium battery case caused the persistent blaze.

While first responders were able to extinguish the initial fire and surrounding flames on trees and brush, the car reignited itself three times due to flares that shot out of the bottom of the vehicle. This raised concerns about the volatility of the electric batteries used in Tesla vehicles. 

Lithium-Ion Batteries May Prove Perilous for Fire Departments

According to an article published in NBC News, the lithium-ion batteries used in Tesla’s electric vehicles pose a “unique threat” that many first responders may not be prepared for. 

Specifically, the electric batteries used in Tesla vehicles contain enough energy to power the average American home for more than two days, according to the EIA. This means that a blaze caused by a Tesla fire may burn longer and hotter than the average gas car fire.

According to Ken Boyce, the director of energy and power technologies at product-safety testing laboratory UL who spoke with Coffee or Die Magazine, “Whatever starts a runaway event, essentially, it starts to heat up the battery and the electrochemistry goes faster, which makes it heat up more,” he said. “So you get this self-perpetuating phenomenon. And it typically ends in fire or explosion.” This means that even an electric car fire that appears to be extinguished can potentially reignite. 

In an NBC News interview regarding the Houston car fire, Woodlands Township Department Chief Palmer Buck explained that the manpower required to extinguish the flames may be the most troubling factor. He said, “The time on scene is more concerning than even the amount of water…the fact that I might have a unit tied up for multiple hours while it cools down.” 

Electric car fires are not only dangerous to those driving battery-operated vehicles, but also to the community as a whole, as firefighters who must be at the scene of a fire for hours will be unable to respond to others calls where assistance is needed.  

Consult New York Car Accident Attorneys at SPBMCC if You Have Been Injured in a Tesla Accident

Tesla car fires have required abnormal amounts of water, time and manpower to extinguish. They prompt the concern that lithium-ion batteries pose a threat that fire departments cannot handle. The volatility of electric car battery fires could potentially cause irreparable damage to homes, businesses, and surrounding natural environments if first-responders cannot mitigate the situation in time. These fires can also lead to tragic accidents and even fatalities, such as the Houston, Texas car fire and the Lake Forest, California fire.

Our New York City car accident attorneys at Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo P.C. have been staying up-to-date on these recent developments to best serve car accident victims. If you or a loved one experienced severe injury or death as a result of a Tesla accident or a Tesla car battery fire, please contact our team of attorneys by calling (212) 732-9000.

Information in the article was sourced from external outlets. You can read more about recent electric car fires and the dangers of electric car batteries on NBC News, SFist and Coffee or Die Magazine.

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