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Totaled Tesla goes up in flames three weeks after crash

A pit and 4,500 gallons of water were needed to put it out

A totaled Tesla Model S burst into flames in a Sacramento junkyard earlier this month, causing a fire that took "a significant amount of time, water, and thinking outside the box to extinguish," firefighters said. 

The vehicle was involved in a comparably unexplosive accident that sent it to the junkyard three weeks ago – it's unclear what caused the Tesla to explode nearly a month after being taken off the road. Like other electric vehicle fires, it was very difficult to extinguish.

"Crews knocked the fire down, but the car kept re-igniting and off-gassing in the battery compartment," the department said on Instagram. 

The crew at the wrecking yard helped firefighters gain access to the battery by flipping the car onto its side, but even that wasn't enough to stop the fire. "Even with direct penetration, the vehicle would still re-ignite due to the residual heat," the department said. 

The eventual solution was to dig a pit big enough to hold the burning Tesla and submerge it in 4,500 gallons (c 17,000 liters) of water, which the department said had the added benefit of limiting contaminated runoff. 

Metro Fire of Sacramento said the call was their first Tesla fire, and reported no injuries as a result of the conflagration. 

Musk-owned ventures and hazardous fires go hand-in-hand, as more than a decade of incidents can attest. In 2010, Tesla recalled approximately 40 percent of its vehicles due to a faulty auxiliary power cable that could cause fires, and in 2018, shortly after being involved in a fatal accident, a Tesla burst into flames... and then reignited five days later while the crashed car was in storage. 

Last year, Tesla's "Big Battery" in Victoria, Australia, burst into flames and burned for days, with crews struggling to put the fire out because water and lithium have an explosive reaction when combined. 

Later in the year, the SEC began investigating whether Tesla's SolarCity panels were a fire risk after two Walmart stores equipped with the panels caught fire and a whistleblower came forward saying Tesla knew of the risks.

There's yet to be a promising improvement on EV battery technology that would make vehicles safer. A switch to sodium-ion batteries has been suggested, as has replacing graphite anodes with silicon ones

The NHTSA also recently opened an investigation into the safety of EV batteries produced by South Korean tech giant LG. LG batteries are found in GM, Mercedes-Benz, Hyundai, Stellantis and Volkswagen vehicles, all of whom issued recalls on vehicles beginning in 2020 due to fire risks. Tesla batteries are mostly manufactured by Panasonic. ®

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